Chelsea Carling Cup win the stuff of broken dreams

CHELSEA, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Bolton Wanders, Fulham, Blackburn Rovers.

CHELSEA, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Bolton Wanders, Fulham, Blackburn Rovers. Not so much a list of football clubs, more an invitation.

Unlike them, when the draw for the fourth round of the Carling Cup is made tomorrow, Newcastle United’s name will be in it. Sunderland’s will not. For the Black Cats it is a missed opportunity, for their neighbours an enticing one.

Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Chelsea was the stuff broken dreams are made of. It was a collection of reserves, not the team which claimed the double Newcastle so thrillingly beat, and there is still much work to be done before United fans can dream of a first trip to Wembley this century.

Supporters would be well advised not to get over-excited, but hopefully it will focus minds at St James’ Park.

As the Premier League era has worn on, the Football League Cup has become a booby prize no one really seems to want. Depressingly, as the league has become increasingly one-sided, the most minor of the major cups has gone the same way.

Since Middlesbrough lifted the trophy in 2004 it has been shared between Chelsea, Spurs and current holders Manchester United (the only one of the trio in the hat tomorrow).

The apathy of many middle-ranked clubs has allowed it to become a training exercise for teenagers and a run-out for fringe players.

Why? Those at the top have bigger fish to fry, at the sharp end of the table there are greater concerns. But for the likes of Newcastle and Sunderland it is surely worth their full attention.

Finishing a place or two up the Premier League is good for the bank balance but football clubs are not judged on money in the bank.

A good cup run can only continue the feel-good factor at St James’.

Wembley appearances and Europa League qualification raise the profile – an important consideration in a part of the country where attracting top players is not as easy as it should be.

It can buy managers that most precious commodity – time – from supporters grateful for the ride. No one in a busy away end at Stamford Bridge seemed to think this cup was worthless.

Ironically Steve Bruce recognised as much, and whatever Sunderland’s disappointing home defeat to West Ham United was down to, a weakened side was not it.

When the Black Cats manager was blaming himself yesterday, it was for not changing enough.

“I got it wrong, I should have changed it,” he lamented. “I made a big boob. I should have freshened us up a bit more than I did.

“There were people who had run a million miles against Arsenal and to ask them to go again so quickly – yes they can but they can’t do it with that intensity.

“There was a flatness about us, which I hadn’t seen for a long, long time. I take that responsibility.

“It’s a bit like running the Great North Run on the Saturday then having to do it on the Tuesday.

“You can do it but you can’t do it in that time or that intensity. I should have known a bit better but you make decisions. West Ham made seven or eight changes, I made two and it looked that way.”

Chris Hughton has gone completely the other way, making 21 team changes in two games this season.

With the fourth round falling in derby week, and buoyed by the deserved win at Stamford Bridge, Hughton will be tempted to ring the changes again. It is a temptation he should perhaps rein in.

Giving Haris Vuckic and Shane Ferguson a taste of first-team football could do for them what it once did for youngsters like Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Cesc Fabregas, and avoiding the lethargy Bruce detected at the Stadium of Light is a must.

But the extra miles another 90 or even 120 minutes puts in the legs of the professional sportsmen who have led Newcastle’s encouraging return to top-flight football is nothing as compared to moving that bit closer to Wembley.

The stalwarts of the Champions League sides regularly churn out two quality performances a week, Newcastle players who endured and excelled in far more matches during last season’s Championship should be capable of it every now and then.

With the Tyne-Wear derby a Sunday affair, a lack of recovery time ought not to be a consideration.

More importantly, the presence of players opponents genuinely fear, such as Andy Carroll and Hatem Ben Arfa, sends out a far more powerful message than confusing them with names they have never heard of. A balance needs to be struck, but Hughton must err on the side of boldness.

This is football, and football is about winning trophies. Newcastle might well end up falling short, but if and when they do, the disappointment will be easier to take if they can look themselves in the mirror knowing they have given it their best shot. It is the very least their fans deserve.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer