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The Carling Cup - What the heck happened?

Andre Villas Boas’ reaction to Chelsea’s incredibly hard fought extra time victory over Everton on Wednesday night said it all about the Carling Cup in 2011-12, a competition enjoying a welcome revival in fortunes this season.

Like a phoenix from the flames, the much maligned trophy appears to be back high on the agenda of the big boys, taking a keen interest in winning it all over again.

Take the other night for example, we witnessed an incredible feast of cup football, 20 goals in four games, two of which went to extra time. Man City’s reserves gave Wolves a goal start only to blast five goals past their admirably offensive hosts.

The Premier League’s latest bad boy, the controversial but sublimingly talented Luis Suarez broke Stoke City hearts at the Britannia in a pulsating encounter. Chelsea edged past Everton at Goodison in a thriller with two red cards and a 120th minute winner from Daniel Sturridge, cue the one man pitch invasion from a triumphant manager.

At Ewood Park, it was a mega thriller as Blackburn Rovers, so keen to give their beleaguered boss a welcome shot in the arm kept on shooting themselves in the foot by letting Newcastle back into the proceedings until Gael Givet’s scrambled winner left it too late for even the Geordies to fight back one last time.

Imagination

Breathless stuff it was, disappointing to see though that apart from the Potteries the ties hardly caught the imagination of the watching public, gates continue to be low for the Carling Cup.

Yet when the dust settled we had a Saturday lunchtime Quarter Final draw live on Sky Sports to savour. With Arsenal and Man Utd qualifying on Tuesday night five of the newly formed ‘Big Six’ were present, which is possibly the reason why the competition has taken on extra significance this season.

The big clubs have tended to cock a snoop at the Carling Cup in the last decade and have made no secret of its lowly position in their list of priorities.

Sure the names of Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool are engraved on the trophy but by and large their records are modest. Surprisingly Arsenal’s name isn’t, the Carling Cup has been synonymous over the years for the annual fielding of Wenger’s latest class of fledgling stars, yet despite eight years consecutively in the quarter finals they’ve never gone on to win it.

If they are to break that run this season they’ll have to do it the hard way, Man City at the Emirates await them next, that should be one to savour plus one of intrigue when considering just what side Wenger will put out.

Kids plus reserves

Arsenal’s kids have now become Arsenal’s kids plus Arsenal’s expensively recruited reserves, guys that need games to justify their transfer fees and wages. Even competition for places in the game’s least fashionable competition has reached fever pitch now.

Fascinated eyes will turn towards West London too as the standard of teams in the draw inevitably produced another cracker, Chelsea vs Liverpool, two sides with managers who clearly want to win this trophy.

The League Cup has turned full circle, it started as more or less a meaningless tournament in the sixties, became main stream and competitive in the next two decades, endless replays and all, then took a dive again as gates dropped and European affairs took priority.

Now the big four who used to be able to practically guarantee Champions League football each season have been joined by two gate crashers to threaten their 21st century supremacy. Squad sizes have swelled as a result and stronger teams have been fielded in the Carling Cup, and their fans demand success like never before.

The elite are interested again; as a result we are being treated to a feast of relentlessly exciting midweek evening football, judging by the last eight draw and the subsequent likely ties for the semi finals there is much more to come yet as well.

Welcome back, Carling Cup.

By Phil Nicholas


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