SHEFFIELD United’s first season in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was something of a novelty.
Now, as they contemplate a second, the competition has probably lost a little gloss. After all, with a potential Wembley appearance still six hours away, followers of Danny Wilson’s side are unlikely to be salivating at the prospect of a Northern Section tie with Notts County next week.
Coupled with the fact that, only by progressing all the way through to the final can the South Yorkshire club expect to see any real return on their investment, coaching staff could also be forgiven for viewing this tournament as nothing but an irritating addition to what is already a congested fixture calendar.
Nevertheless, the temptation to try and ‘engineer’ an early exit must be resisted at all costs. Not least because it sticks in the craw to see League One and League Two clubs failing to take the opportunity to win a piece of silverware seriously.
As Fernando Torres famously said: “Imagine...after you stop playing, you go back, you look around, you are not in any picture, you have no medals, no trophies; it is like you played for nothing.” And if trying to lift a trophy - any trophy - is good enough for a World and European champion, then it damn well should be for players and supporters of teams plying their trade towards the foot of England’s professional pyramid.
Yes, promotion is the priority this season. But achieving that and trying to win the JPT are not mutually exclusive.
There is also another reason why United must afford Wednesday’s match the respect it deserves. It represents a chance to expose younger members of Wilson’s squad to the rigours of first team competition.
Which, let’s not kid ourselves, given the pressure he is under to deliver a top two finish this term, they are not going to be afforded often unless circumstances demand.
It is just possible that George Long, United’s teenage goalkeeper, was able to perform with such surety when his services were unexpectedly called upon at Leyton Orient six days ago partly because of the two games he played in this cup last term.
Wilson, a curious mix of old and new school values, will not want to get beaten by County. But if he can find a way to weave the likes of Matty Harriott, Callum McFadzean and Danny Philliskirk into the eleven which start at Meadow Lane, it would not only help aid their development but also generate some interest among the JPT sceptics in United’s crowd. Give the game added meaning and purpose.
Long apart, Harriott and Philliskirk both featured in this competition during the 2011/12 campaign.
But they accumulated only 48 minutes of action combined out of a possible 270. And, since then, precisely zero.
Victory over County can not be taken for granted.
But if United can reach the next stage and beyond, then that figure can be increased. And ensure the JPT plays a crucial role in helping to truly shape United’s future.