Substitute numbers don’t add up for Cotterill

Steve Cotterill is facing a selection dilemma. Picture: Michael Jones
Steve Cotterill is facing a selection dilemma. Picture: Michael Jones
Fan-funder Steve McLenaghan cuts the ribbon to officially open the Tifosy pitches at Pompeys Copnor Road training base. Also included are, from left, James Pollock, Tifosy, Blues chief executive Mark Catlin, manager Kenny Jackett, academy boss Mark Kelly and Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Ken Ellcome. Fans were also present at the opening ceremony

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For too long Pompey’s substitutes’ bench was desperate for customers.

Now the sold out signs are being hung up.

It is not without irony that the club which embarrassingly failed to fill their bench so often are these days oversubscribed.

For last weekend’s trip to Bristol City, Hermann Hreidarsson, Christian Dailly and Ryan Williams were all omitted from the 16-man squad.

As it was, 17-year-old Williams travelled – and even warmed up with the substitutes before the game. Still, a packed-out bench is a new headache for Cotterill as he seeks to juggle his squad.

Changes in Football League legislation this summer means the 72 member clubs must now name five substitutes in league competition.

This is an alteration from the two previous campaigns when managers had the choice of up to seven to occupy the bench.

Of course, that was rendered irrelevant last term for the smallest squad in the Football League.

Only in six of Pompey’s 50 matches did they manage to fill the designated seven-man bench.

On one occasion at Nottingham Forest in January, they boasted a mere three substitutes.

Nowadays the bench has been slimmed down, much to the annoyance of the Blues boss.

Cotterill has been forced to leave out experienced duo Hreidarsson and Dailly for the past two games.

With three more new recruits in his sights, there could be more joining them on the sidelines.

And Cotterill believes the rule change has been a spectacular own goal.

He said: ‘It is the worst decision ever to go to five on the bench.

‘It makes your job more difficult as a manager now. You have got to leave people out.

‘Suddenly they feel as though they are not involved.

‘They might not have got on with seven subs but they actually felt involved.

‘Whereas now, potentially, they are left in their tracksuits.

‘How can you keep them involved? It’s very difficult to do that.

‘I don’t see the logic in it. It is obviously a money decision but what happens then, do you not put your 17-year-old on the bench?

‘You want to be able to try to bring your young kids through and keep them involved and that is now difficult.

‘Or you’ve got older players you’ve potentially got to leave out if you are looking a little bit to the future

‘Then if you’ve got the flexibility within the XI, you might not even want another defender on the bench.

‘Whereas with seven players you could carry them.

‘I suppose if we had five subs last year it wouldn’t have been so embarrassing for us because that is normally all we had.

‘I don’t think it is a good decision at all. I don’t see it and I don’t get it. And I don’t know the answer to solving it – other than changing the rule back to seven.’

Clubs voted to reduce substitute numbers at a Football League meeting on July 21.

Teams are still permitted to name seven in the Carling Cup and FA Cup but only five in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Financial implications have been cited as the reasons for the change.

Regardless, for the opening two matches of this season Cotterill still could not fill his quota.

That has changed following the arrivals of Dailly, Benjani Mwaruwari and Erik Huseklepp, as well as Jason Pearce’s return from suspension.

And Cotterill is convinced there are Football League managers who would have preferred the seven-substitute system to have remained in place.

He added: ‘A lot of us feel the same about this.

‘Probably nearly all the clubs voted for it, that is why it got through. It would have been a vote based on finances, appearance money and whatever.

‘They might have been better off going to clubs and in turn going back to managers.

‘Perhaps they could have asked players to potentially sacrifice a certain amount of their appearance money.

‘That would have been a quicker and better way of evening that up.’