FA Cup underdogs have been having a ball – but that could be about to change…
15:16 GMT, 18 February 2013
17:32 GMT, 18 February 2013
It is not just the balls that come out of the bag that those teams intent on FA Cup giant-killing will be concerned about.
Championship sides Blackburn, Millwall, Barnsley and Middlesbrough, along with League One Oldham, are all still dreaming of a trip to Wembley and a semi-final encounter with one of the Barclays Premier League big boys.
But with goalkeepers already having had to contend with an unpredictable Umbro FA Cup ball, those stoppers from further down the league now face the disadvantage of having to get used to the flight of the Nike Premier League ball from the final four of the competition onwards.
Cup Magic: But Colin Kazim-Richards' Blackburn Rovers, who knocked out Premier League Arsenal on Saturday, may have trouble with the Premier League ball, used in the FA Cup semi-finals onwards
Unpredictable: Goalkeepers have had to get used to the ball for the earlier rounds, the Umbro Neo 2
As part of the FA’s megabucks deal with Nike, from the semi-final of the Cup the ball used will be a de-branded version of the Maxim, which Premier League strikers have been lashing into the net all season and which top-flight keepers have been tipping around the post.
Having spent hours on the training ground trying to get to grips with the Umbro Neo 2 used so far in the competition, Football League keepers must now familiarise themselves with the Nike ball whose flight is second nature to the Premier League counterparts.
MK Dons goalkeeping coach, Paul Heald, who watched his keeper David Martin ship in three in Saturday’s defeat by Barnsley, explained: ‘We work all year with a certain match ball but for cup games we use Umbro balls which are totally different, move differently and have a different texture to them. Some people don’t realise that it is a big difference.
Knock-out: MK Dons keeper David Martin, left, conceded three goals in Saturday's cup loss to Barnsley
‘All the balls are made slightly
differently. The Premier League balls are different to the Football League
balls but the FA Cup balls just seem to travel quicker.
'They have got a
little bit more bounce and they shoot off the surface, especially on
wet surfaces, and move a lot sharper.
balls are different every year and the manufactures try and keep it
interesting. Even the way the leather is cut, the design is to make the
'I take my hats off to young keepers. It is great for
the strikers and supporters but it is an absolute nightmare for
All change: Any lower league side facing Robin van Persie in the semi-final will have to deal with the same ball, pictured above, that he has scored with 19 times in the Premier League this season
presumably plenty of sleepless nights for goalkeepers over the weekend
as 25 goals were scored in seven matches, suggesting the preparation on
the training pitch had not gone according to plan despite there being no
limit on how much you can practice with the ball.
Umbro’s technical specifications of their Neo 2 claim it features ‘just 14 panels to offer larger strike zones and a smoother, more accurate flight.’ Nike, by comparison, claim their Maxim’s Geo II Balanced technology ‘distributes pressure evenly for consistency and accuracy’ while it also features a ‘carbon-latex bladder for acceleration and superior air retention.’
But despite such space age technology, Heald certainly feels the advantage lies with the strikers in the modern game.
He said: ‘We have a laugh and a joke amongst keepers and say that outfield players, all they do is close their eyes, keep their head down, hit and hope and the ball does the rest.
'We say that all they do is swing the leg and hit the ball and the art is really in the goalkeeping.’