D3D4 Walsall Correspondent Darren Young gives his views on the ever present idea of resting players for the “important” matches, in his weekly column…

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Is A Change As Good As The Best?


I just came back from my daughter’s under-11 football match – a cup match which they lost 3-1. But never mind; you see, they rested nine players as they have a vital league match next week.


‘That’s our priority’ my daughter told me on the way home after she’d spent the morning warming the bench. They can’t expect us to play twice in a week’


She was right of course. How can players be at their best if they are being continually flogged week in, week out. Their opponents earlier today had themselves made seven changes because most of their team had been invited to a birthday party. Besides the rotation and rest policy does them good – keeps them in pristine condition for the games that really matter.


Plus it saves me a week of having to pay subs.


This (the pristine condition not paying subs) is the reason why I think that it’s sensible that professional clubs do the same in the EFL Cup and Checkatrade Trophy. As they have been doing at quite a rate in the last couple of weeks.


Except that actually I don’t. Not to the extent they have been anyway.


Because I don’t think most fans want it either. Not to the extent it was in the second round of the EFL cup anyway when clubs made 274 changes in just nineteen ties.


I mean, who wants their team to go into a match deliberately weakened. It’s like we all have to learn what it’s like to be Arsenal fans.


And where does it end?


The way things are going, we’ll have reserve teams playing their reserve-reserve team so that the can rest their reserve players for the bigger reserve matches. Or teams resting players from the Wednesday end-of-training 5-a-side so they can be fresher for the one on Thursday.


A lot was made of the Checkatrade Trophy changes last season because even the lower league clubs were making anywhere from five to eleven changes; despite rules that forbade it. But that was always going to happen in that cup because of the nature of it. By allowing reserve teams in the first place, it was a ‘get out of getting fined too much for making so many changes for free’ card.


But the EFL Cup? This is a tournament that carries a European place for the winner lest us not forget and the accusation is that all these major first XI overhauls are devaluing the whole competition. But it also devalues the clubs themselves to a certain extent.

And it definitely devalues the fans and their contribution.


We know that the Premier League has long stopped taking the competition seriously in the early rounds. But that was, in the past, a chance they were prepared to take.


Then slowly but surely, Championship clubs followed suit, the logic being that by playing away at Yeovil on a Tuesday in mid-August, their players would be too tired for the endeavours on the following Saturday. And if they lost that Saturday game, they only have forty-three games left to get back on track.


Then Yeovil and the other lower league clubs started doing the same thing themselves.


Apart from anything else, it makes it easy for the bigger teams to carry on doing it. The potential consequence has lessened dramatically. In the past, there was always a risk that a second string XI would come a cropper on a wet night at Cheltenham but if the lower league club makes half a dozen or more changes too, the better team will nearly always prevail.


They are making it too easy. Giant killing is going out of fashion. And that really is a kick where it hurts for fans. Take a look at the early round attendances of any cup these days and you’ll see which side of the fence they’re sitting on.


Even if there is an offer of cut price admission, which there should be anyway, the clubs are missing the point.


As fans of lower league clubs, many of us live for the odd moments of glory interwoven with the misery and disappointment. Those moments of glory are not just promotions and championships (which are so infrequent we couldn’t survive on them alone) but also those famous, long in the memory cup shocks.


My club Walsall, won at Arsenal in the League Cup during my first season as a supporter (glory hunter!) and over the years have enjoyed other notable victories over teams from higher divisions. But how many more?


The FA Cup, thankfully, still holds some lustre although the team change numbers grow annually. But the difference is that by November, nearly all league one and two clubs are out of the other cup competitions and can focus on it more. So too, in my opinion, should mid-table Premier League clubs because, believe it or not, their fans live for a trip to the cup final – or even semi-final too; not a fourth, fifth or sixth place finish so that their season can start four weeks earlier next time around.


And I know people will hold up Bradford and Lincoln from recent seasons as examples of giant killing being alive and well. But remember, it was by beating weakened teams that they got there in the first place and the trend is turning against it – just look at the list of winners of FA Cups and League Cups and see how the big six have dominated more and more in the last few years.


Except for the elite who have a realistic chance of winning it, cups are all about giant killing and unexpected deep runs into the latter rounds but this messing about with starting line ups makes it almost impossible to tell the David’s from the Goliaths anyway. For example, does a Bristol Rovers’ win at Fulham Reserves constitute a shock? Or would it have been the other way around?


I feel like raising the question of player fitness but it’s an old argument and maybe one that has had its day. But I still remember Liverpool and then Aston Villa winning a 42-game championship and playing in the cup games too with something like thirteen or maybe fourteen players. Some teams can’t get through a week with fourteen players these days. I know the game is faster – because I’m continually told it is – but it’s only about a tenth as physical too.


The other side of the argument will be about giving other players game time, and this one I will acknowledge. As fans, of course we want to see young players given a go and I understand how attractive the cups are to do this in.


But that’s only because managers are too scared to do it in league games because they are always no more than two or three defeats from being fired.


And back to the fans. They don’t want to sacrifice a potential cup run so that some fringe players can get a game. There are enough matches in nine months for teams to try whatever they like. This is the start of the bloody season.  Some teams have played five games and already rested a whole team of players for two of them.


But is there anything we can do? The voting with our feet is not working (some cup attendances were down more than 50% on league matches) so we should take more of a stand. The fans should have a voice that is heard by clubs.


To this end, I intend to raise the point with my club’s directors at the next fans’ forum.


Well the one after actually. I’m having a break from the coming one so that someone else can have a go.




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