A lot has been said about teams ‘disrespecting’ the FA Cup in recent years.
This has been an issue which has divided opinion in recent years: should teams put out their strongest lineup in England’s most notorious domestic cup competition? Or is there a case for fielding a weakened side to give first teamers a rest and allowing fringe players to thrive and make their case to start regularly?
For me, I can see both sides to the argument. The FA Cup is a very special competition and has a reputation that the Carabao Cup, I’m afraid to say, has never really had.
Massive upsets and non-league triumphs are all part and parcel of this glorious cup and have been for many, many years – just look at eight-tier Marine and their remarkable fixture against Tottenham Hotspur.
Why would you not do everything in your power to win it? Reading even came very close in 2015 before being knocked out in the semi-final by Arsenal.
Well, the ‘magic of the cup’, in my opinion, encompasses the inclusion of many young players that are given a chance they would rarely get in the league.
Take 18-year-old midfielder Oli Pendlebury for example.
Even though the youngster has captained England U16s, many Reading fans may not have heard of him at all until the teamsheet came out at 2pm last Saturday.
Credit to him, he put in a decent shift alongside Benfica loanee Alfa Semedo and did not look out of place against Championship opposition – even managing to sting the palms of Luton goalkeeper Simon Sluga in the first half.
At the back, we started with three academy graduates in Tom McIntyre, Jeriel Dorsett and Ethan Bristow. Judging from his first start, Dorsett looks like a decent option to have if we endure an injury crisis in central defence.
Bristow also had a lot to prove with continuing speculation regarding Omar Richards and his potential move to Bayern Munich – and will have learnt a lot from this experience having been involved in our Carabao Cup ties against Colchester United and Luton Town (yes, again).
In fact, all the inexperienced players who were involved last weekend will have learnt a lot, not just from the match, but from training with the first team – something that has reportedly happened quite regularly with Veljko Paunovic’s ‘fresh start’ approach.
And two players who undoubtedly came closest to scoring were Jayden Onen and Nahum-Melvin Lambert, two players who have been on the bench numerous times in Championship games.
Whilst Onen was not able to convert two great chances, you have to be in the right position to have that chance in the first place – and Paunovic should be heartened by his ability to get in and amongst the action.
To cap it all off, Tom McIntyre was given the chance to captain the side he grew up supporting, a fantastic reward for a player who has overcome many challenges to get to where he is today. At the start of the season, he was set to be shipped out on loan but has proved to be a vital asset to the club over the past month.
So yes, of course it was disappointing to exit the cup at such an early stage.
However, the academy has shown its strength once again in producing some absolute gems to look at over the next few years – and with our compact fixture list this season and top six ambitions – the loss at the weekend may end up being a strangely important part of the 2020/21 campaign.
By Adam Jones