Early start hurts the cup but suits United’s needs

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TIMING, as the last comic you saw bomb at the local working men’s club will forlornly admit, is everything.

Well, a funny thing happened to Sheffield United on their way towards next weekend’s League One opener with Shrewsbury Town.

They squeezed a Capital One cup tie against Burton Albion in between the visit of Graham Turner’s side and Wednesday’s friendly at Matlock.

Hilarious? Not really.

Strange? Definitely yes.

Not to mention another nail in the coffin of this newly-rebranded but still much-maligned tournament which should enjoy star billing on England’s footballing calendar but now has the air of a glorified pre-season warm-up.

Nevertheless, despite the bemusing decision by the suits at Preston HQ allowing members to schedule first-round ties before the start of the campaign proper, this competition is of vital importance to United this term.

And not simply because, in these financially-chastened times, every penny counts.

With several graduates of their Shirecliffe academy champing at the bit for first-team roles, the further Danny Wilson’s side progress the better they will be equipped when the chance to properly establish themselves at senior level comes.

Let’s be brutally frank.

Senior figures behind the scenes at Bramall Lane might gush romantically about huge swathes of home-grown players propelling United towards promotion but, realistically, it’s not going to happen.

Wilson, the man whose head is ultimately on the block if results go wrong, is not going to entrust the club’s Championship ambitions to a host of prodigiously-talented but nevertheless green youngsters.

Simultaneously handing Joe Ironside, Callum McFadzean, Matt Harriott and George Long key roles would be a huge gesture of faith.

Not to mention, given the weight of expectation United’s players must carry this term, coupled with the inevitable inconsistencies of youth, foolish, unfair and professional suicide.

That is not to say they aren’t capable of forging successful careers with the South Yorkshire club. They are.

Just that no manager expected to deliver promotion will ever, voluntarily, place his own future in the hands of inexperienced pro’s.

Knockout competition, though, offers a window of opportunity for them to be interspersed with time served team mates and gradually exposed to the pressures of life at Bramall Lane.

At some point they must be allowed to either sink or float. But no-one in their right mind chucks a wanna-be swimmer into the deep end, sans armbands or rubber ring, without first teaching them the rudiments of a stroke.

Its organisers have arguably failed in their duty to protect the good name of the Football League Cup although its scheduling and format means it serves several purposes for United.

So, for that reason, no-one should be under any illusion that tomorrow’s fixture is of great significance.

Not only this season but also beyond.