Kevin Gage's Blades Column: Checkatrade Trophy is a complete nonsense and a waste of time for Sheffield United

Kevin Gage column
Kevin Gage column

A tale of two matches this week. One a vitally important league game, a great performance and a valuable point, whilst the other, quite frankly, a complete nonsense and a waste of everyone’s time.

Let’s start with the good. I’m not here to do match reports because we all know what happened, but the Fleetwood game just shows how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. Given the set-up and attitude of our current side, I actually expected no less than a point.

A never-say-die spirit resulted in that last gasp equalizer, which then gave us all a wonderful moment watching our manager sprint 50 yards to join in the celebrations and launch himself into the fans! Those in the know maintain that he ran far quicker than he ever did as a Blades player, and that he’d never run so far and got that high up the pitch!

As the match turned out, we dominated and should have had all three points, an opinion backed up by the 18 shots we had at their goal, with eight of them on target, both of which are excellent statistics. These ‘shot’ numbers are very telling and I wrote a few weeks ago highlighting the fact that after four games we’d only had 23 shots, a very poor average per game, and even worse only 1 per game on target!

The average in our past seven unbeaten league games is a healthy 13 shots per game, more than any other team in our league over this period in fact, and I see no reason why we should let these numbers dwindle over the course of the season. Chris Wilder demands that the team goes forward as a first option and plays in a style that takes the game to the opposition.

This then enables us to get crosses in and to play football in and around the opposition penalty area, resulting in chances and shots at goal. The three teams above us in the league are averaging 12, 13, and 15 shots at goal respectively, so to be up there and challenging for auto-promotion we need to at least maintain these stats, and hopefully improve on them. Bearing in mind that worldwide, in every league of professional football, roughly only 30-40 per cent of shots taken are ever on target, and then of those only approximately one in four (or one in three depending on quality of players) will result in a goal, our next challenge is to improve the quality of our finishing.

Chances are being created, we now have to score from more of them please!

So now we turn to the bad. Yes, the Checkatrade Trophy made another unwanted, unwelcome appearance, and despite the furore surrounding the whole concept, it attracted 2,619 fans to the Lane. Although probably about 15,000 down had it been a league game, it was a healthy crowd compared to some other grounds on the night. Port Vale had their second lowest crowd in their history.

Portsmouth had 1,335, their lowest since 1945. The Swindon v Oxford local ‘derby’ had its lowest turnout ever. Only 377 Barnet fans ventured out to watch them play Norwich U23s. Bet they wished they hadn’t. Barnet lost 5-0.

In short, all over the country the fans voted with their feet in response to the ill-conceived idea of allowing the bigger clubs play their U23 teams in a competition traditionally only for the two lower divisions. The excuse given to the football public was that it would help the development of future senior England internationals leading to English football tournament success (50 years of hurt and all that!) whilst the average fan saw it as Premier League/Football League interference at best, and at worst, a cynical ploy towards a potential League 3 involving bigger clubs being allowed a ‘B’ team in lower divisions.

Blades fans voted with their feet once more on Tuesday

Blades fans voted with their feet once more on Tuesday

It’s not working for a variety of reasons, but I’ll give you just a few. The PL/Championship clubs can play up to five players aged over 23 in the U23s, and most of them just use it as ‘another game’ for the squad players. For example, Stoke played players aged 24, 25, 28, 30, and 31. In a competition purely re-designed for the benefit of future England players, Blackburn gave a run-out to Wes Brown. He’s 36.

Reading only actually had five English players in their starting line-up, and I’m sure there are countless other examples in the U23 teams involved. Also bear in mind that it’s been international break week, and therefore all the top English talent are away on duty anyway!

We even had a league game called off because Walsall have three young players called up for international duty. One of them plays for Afghanistan. I only wish I was joking.

From a Blades perspective, it gets even more ridiculous when you consider Chris Wilder and other lower league managers are not even allowed to play their own U23 teams as they will be fined £5k for fielding a weakened side! Ingenious ways are then found to get round this, as Bradford did when they subbed their first-team keeper after two minutes!

It’s rapidly turned into a farce. Our next, and last game in this seasons competition, is away to Grimsby, and both teams are already out! Lets play our whole U23 side, give our youngsters a first-team chance and pay the £5k fine. In fact, at the next home game, let’s have a whip-round, put 25p in each and 20,000 Blades will sort it. It’ll be 25p well spent in my book! UTB

Kevin Gage owns The Manor House bar/hotel/restaurant, High St, Dronfield, S18. Follow him on Twitter: @gageykev