Tuesday 9th August 2016
So it's still August and there is that early season belief in the air for all the clubs who hold ambitions to win promotions, leagues and cups...one of which is the EFL cup.
Historically this competition is harder than say the FA cup due to the fact that in later stages, it is generally the big Premier League teams who are left in it. As Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have shown, it's also a springboard to winning the Premier League several months after the final.
The EFL Cup is also under perenial scrutiny, with some fans using derogatory phrases such as the 'Mickey Mouse' cup to describe it, or Premier League teams and some Chmapionship teams fielding weaker sides in the earlier stages with the hope of being eliminated...due to the added distraction from either, consolidating their Premier League status, or building a promotion challenge.
The 1st round of this competition is also quite a unique situation because it has become a tradition to play the fixture as the second competitive game of the season, with no points at stake, just a potential money fixture in the 2nd or 3rd round.
With the draw being split into seeded (Championship and top half League 1 finish) and unseeded (bottom hald League 1 finish and League 2) it actually creates a fixture, which although is deemed competitive, can be treated as a friendly due to how early in the season it is played.
This was the situation at the iPro Stadium where Championship's Derby County encountered newly promoted League 2's Grimsby Town.
After parking up on a gravel company car park for £6 nearby the stadium, I began my trek to the iPro. However, I couldn't help but notice that the site/complex surrounding the Club was full of fast food chains and restaurants. Burger King, KFC, Frankie and Benny's and Subway are all in close proximity to each other but walking along the road was a Pizza Hut employee giving out 'free Pizza' to football fans. Well it would be rude to say no and so before I even took my seat the experience was already enjoyable.
After passing all of the Food chains I arrived at the iPro to realise that they have a Gregg's occupying a part of their stand. What Paddy mcGuiness would give for the Macron Stadium to have such a shop.
Shortly after this I realised too that Derby's shirt sponsor is 'Just Eat'. With the vast amount of food chains, the Stadium pastry store and the shirt sponsor, what impression are Derby County trying to make?
Rochdale's TVOS (The Voice of Spotland) will generally take 3 weeks to include their latest images of their previous match into a match day programme. It's a massive and difficult job to produce them and Rochdale do a grand job at £3 a copy.
Derby had included up-to-date comments from the Derby manager and club captain, supported by images from the fixture 3 days earlier. This got me thinking that clubs the size of Derby County and beyond must have full time dedicated Programme writers.
Whilst reading an excerpt by the CEO on the stadium improvements, such as the new floodlights, they magically switched on as I read about it. It would appear giant, tall floodlight structures, or over-hanging panels of lights attached to the top of the stands are becoming obsolete.
The fixture was played much like a 'friendly' that I referred to. It was full of missed passes and poor controlled touches by both teams. A lack of rhythm in the first half by Derby meant that Grimsby would close down in the final third of the pitch and counter attack when they could.
Darren Bent up front wasn't on form at all, either missing his chance or the receiving pass being to poor for him to latch onto.
Derby received a freekick 30 yards out which would be whipped into the box. At this point, Emma my wife texts me the Rochdale score and as I read the message Richard Keogh scores...so the one moment in the game which mattered and I missed it for a text, unbelievable.
It was the only thing Derby really did in the second half, it wasn't a classic. It was at 65 minutes played that Grimsby got their first corner which came to nothing.
Disappointed not to witness the goal fest we all hope for as a neutral but I did get to tick another League club off and really enjoyed the overall experience.
The iPro stadium has so far been one of my favourite stadiums to visit, a wonderful symmetrical designed structure which oozes 'Premier League' quality...hopefully this season they finally manage to return to the top flight.