In a week when goals fell out of the sky, notably in two titanic all-Premier League clashes, the Football League Cup can claim to have entertained the public.
For so long the ugly sister of cup competitions in the Premier-obsessed country we have become, people are starting to get all misty-eyed about Alan Hardaker’s brainchild.
Reading and Arsenal netted 12 goals between them in a quite extraordinary game, with Arsenal running out 7-5 winners. Chelsea won by the odd goal in nine against their bitter rivals Manchester United. Leeds beat Premier League Southampton – no great surprise there, but isn’t it funny that despite being a division above the Yorkshiremen, league form suddenly makes the Saints vulnerable – Swansea won at Anfield, Norwich beat Tottenham and Bradford City won a shoot-out against Wigan. If you want cup romance, it was here in bundles.
Now we have four intriguing quarter-finals, and I guarantee the shocks are not over. Leeds won’t need much motivation to face their old rivals Chelsea. Swansea will have their work cut out against Middlesbrough, although the Welshmen (if indeed there are any in their team) will like the idea of a trip to Wembley. Norwich against Aston Villa is a classic League Cup tie, they met in the 1975 final. Finally, there’s League Two Bradford City against Arsenal, which has that “David v Goliath” look about it, and with the Gunners hitting 13 goals in their two ties (they beat Coventry 6-1 in Round Three), the Bantams’ keeper, Matt Duke, may get backache that night.
There seems to be some renewed interest in the League Cup, or to use it’s sponsored name, the Milk, Carling, Capital One Cup. Admittedly, the big clubs don’t get too worked up until the latter stages, by which time they’ve used their reserves to blast their way past the minnows, a ploy which deservedly back-fires. But it’s a quick route to Europe, although again, the big clubs consider the Europa as second-rate. But why do some clubs continually under-rate both competitions? In reality, 17 teams in the Premier cannot win the title, at least 12-15 have no chance of Champions League football. So why not come to terms with this and aim for the summit they can realistically reach?
For many people, visiting their club for a League Cup game is the best chance they have of getting a ticket. Hence, crowds are looking quite good – look at Round Four: Liverpool 37,521; Chelsea 41,126;
Norwich 16,465; Leeds 17,002; Reading 23,980; Sunderland 32,535; Swindon 14,434; Wigan 11,777.
What’s noticeable this season is that there seems to be genuine excitement, which suggests that the shackles are removed for these games. Long may it continue. My tip for the final, draw permitted: Swansea v Arsenal – which is sure to be the death-knell for both clubs’ hopes!