Tempting though it may be to treat the League Cup as light relief after successive matches against top four teams, Preston away is serious business.
The contempt with which this competition is viewed within the game is evidenced by the number of ‘resting’ players this midweek. In the last round, even Doncaster fielded a weakened team, for goodness sake. However, this trophy is a major target for us, never mind the need to reassert our confidence after two substantial defeats, and I advocate a near first choice selection.
I confess I know very little about today’s Preston, although time was when I had a profound insight into the club. Preston were the choice of my son and I in Championship Manager 01. Our success gave the lie to the maxim that you cannot have joint managers. It may not have worked for Curbishley and Gritt at Charlton, but not so many miles from the Valley, two minds were as one.
Why we chose Preston, I’m not entirely clear. Can’t be Spurs, there’s too much of an emotional attachment. It’s bad enough kicking every ball and agonising over every miss every match, let alone putting yourself through that most evenings. Any other Prem team was out of the question, but we were attracted by the challenge of building a team on scant resources, using our football nouse, football people.
And so Preston it was. The board had limited funds and ambition to match, but although the pressure was off, we aimed high. The play-off final was a nadir in my cyber football career. Keeper David Lucas, promoted by us in the latter stages of the season, failed to repay our faith by having a mare. Subbed at halftime, the battle was already lost and even the efforts of our mystery Icelandic striker Porhallsson could not turn the game around. By then of course we had long ditched the football nouse idea – hours scouring the internet found the cheap guys who no one had heard of in real life but who excelled in CM. Press delete and start again.
CM is both an escape from and a mirror of reality. The following season was a triumphant march to the Premiership but once there, we could not buy any decent players and remaining loyal to the existing squad led inexorably to ignominious relegation and the sack. But I forgave them. Over the years curiously I’ve kept up with some of the players who did not feature for us. Paul McKenna (not that one) was a dedicated squad player in CM but in reality stayed for about 10 years and over 400 games before moving on this season to Forest. Richard Cresswell had great stats but did nothing for us, yet he’s flirted with the Prem at several clubs. On the other hand, we brought back ageing full back Graham Alexander as a first team regular and in real life he went on to become an international and scored on Saturday for Burnley. I like to think we can claim a little credit.
Spurs should field a strong team tonight. There are a few positions that might be up for grabs in the long run, so the choice between Gomes and Cudicini could indicate how much Harry rates the Brazilian. This is the moment to bring him in, if that is the plan, but Carlo has done well enough for us. Similarly, with Corluka and Hud the only centre halves available (I’m assuming Bassong will be rested after his bash on Sunday eve though it’s not a serious injury), there’s an opportunity for Hutton to have a run in the team, but again there’s a pointer if Naughton plays.
In centre midfield JJ and WP must anchor the team and up front is Crouch and Defoe for me. This leaves the two wide midfield places. Niko in one and hold Lennon as an impact sub if necessary, so maybe a chance for Bentley (my preferred option) or Gio.
As a postscript, put your hands together for all the Pompey faithful who went to Carlisle last night. That’s being a football supporter. Or insane.