Michael O’Neill made clear he wasn’t happy with his team’s performance against Blackpool, but I don’t think he will be losing sleep about the game.
This was technically a competitive match, the first round of the Carabao Cup, but it didn’t feel like part of the season. How could it when the game was played in the middle of a pre-season schedule two weeks before the actual League season begins?
The first round of the cup has been brought forward because of fixture congestion with the league season starting later than normal. But while I am sure Michael will have been pleased to have won – getting through on penalties after a goalless draw – it’s not the same game as if it was played during the season proper.
Last season only finished in July so of course clubs are still building up through pre-season to be ready for the league campaign. It’s about looking at systems, giving players some game time to build up their match fitness and basically getting ready for the start of the real thing when Stoke take on Millwall in the Championship on September 12.
I am sure he will have taken some positives from the game, such as a clean sheet and some shoot-out heroics from Adam Davies, but the fact he wasn’t happy with his team’s performance in the final third won’t have worried him as much as if this were a league game.
There has been a bit of talk about the value of the League Cup over the last few years and I just wonder if this season might have been a good one to give it a miss completely.
I certainly don’t blame managers who look at the first round as part of their pre-season preparations this time.
Port Vale play their first round game this Saturday, when they are away to Scunthorpe, but John Askey has made clear that his priority is the start of the League Two season the following week, at home to Crawley.
I don’t blame him at all. The big thing about cup matches for lower division clubs is that, if you get through, you have the chance of a game against one of the big boys.
But the early rounds are all being played in September when fans still won’t be back anyway so there is far less incentive.
Talking about supporters, their return is when I will really feel that football is really back.
But we are still waiting to see when fans can return and in what numbers.
There was a test at Brighton on Saturday when 2,500 were allowed into their game at home to Chelsea – but 2,500 in a ground that holds 30,000 really isn’t a day at the football as we know it.
I am sure supporters up and down the country are far more interested in when they will be able to go to watch their team play than they are in friendlies or the first round of the Carabao Cup.