Sunday, July 17, 2016

League Cup struggles to capture the imagination

Given Scottish football's longstanding failure to embrace new, interesting ideas, we should probably be grateful for the new League Cup format.  Bringing in a group stage certainly freshens it up, allowing minnows a crack at a top flight team or two.  Playing it in late July, where it almost has a monopoly on live football before the league campaigns begin north and south of the border, is a smart move as well.

And for me, the best bit is the penalty shootouts in the event of a draw, earning the winner of the shootout a bonus point.  BT Sport's coverage of the kicks at the end of the Arbroath v Dundee United game certainly helps; the camera angle made me feel like I was playing World Cup Italia 90 on the Mega Drive again.

In fact, BT Sport's relentless enthusiasm for Scottish football remains a massive boon, and if it means more footage of the presenters' notes being blown away in a Gayfield gale, and the eventual inevitable brawl between Michael Stewart and Chris Sutton, then so much the better.  Stewart will probably win that fight, as Sutton won't be able to resist backing into him and then theatrically throwing himself to the ground.

The July start, three weeks before the SPFL games begin, was also more likely to throw up some shocks, at least initially.  Plenty of Premiership and Championship clubs are yet to complete their summer recruiting (Kilmarnock being the exception!).  Several of them played only one or two friendlies before this weekend, giving the impression that League Cup group games were their true pre-season.

But while the group format means that losing the first match doesn't mean elimination, the chances of getting to the knockout stages are drastically reduced...especially as only four second placed sides go through.  I'd expect nine points to be required to get one of those twelve spots in the next round, so Dundee may rue dropping points at East Fife (and losing the shootout too!).  And as for Hamilton Accies, the concern is that the defeat to Ayr is a sign not just that they aren't ready for this season, but that they never will be.  Kilmarnock and Inverness made heavy weather of defeating League Two opponents, but at least they managed to do so.

The big concern for the tournament organizers, though, will be the attendances from the opening round of matches.  Just seven of the thirteen games broke 1,000 spectators.  991 were at Ayr v Hamilton; 557 attended Montrose v Ross County; 487 went through the turnstiles for Cowdenbeath v Inverness.  Clearly it hasn't captured the imagination yet.

Here's where I feel the SPFL missed a trick.  The groups are not properly regionalized - how else would one explain Dumbarton and Forfar being in the same section?  I would have ditched seeding altogether (or almost altogether) - and based the groups entirely on local geography.  It doesn't matter if there are two top flight teams in a section (ICT and Ross County, for example) or none at all (imagine a group located around Falkirk).  

Instead there should have been a focus on having as many local derbies as possible.  Add in a wee trophy for the annual winners of each group - a 'Galloway Cup' for the winners of the Kilmarnock/Ayr/Queen of the South/Annan/Stranraer section, for example - and I reckon that'd get the punters in, which is the most important thing.

(Yes, I know there would be variables caused by teams dropping out of League Two or qualifying for Europe or whatever, but I don't think those make it unworkable).

Anyway, the jury's still out on the new League Cup, and understandably so given that it's only been around for five minutes.  But Tuesday night's matches are unlikely to throw up many big talking points.  After all, there's only one Premiership team involved - Rangers at home to Annan.

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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