Football: Football League lift Cup burden

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A welcome reversal of the relentless trend towards an ever- greater number of fixtures was announced yesterday by the Football League, which is recommending that clubs competing in Europe should be allowed a bye into the third round of the Coca-Cola Cup.

With a simultaneous decision not to punish Manchester United for fielding an inexperienced line-up in their second- round tie against Port Vale, the League has given recognition and sympathy to the intolerable workload faced by the successful clubs.

The League secretary, David Dent, said: 'We are keen to demonstrate our commitment to the welfare of English football, and by lessening the number of matches clubs in Europe have to play at home we can give them a better chance of success abroad.'

He added that the League had accepted United's explanation that injuries, combined with the arduous programme of domestic and international fixtures had left them with little alternative but to select from their talented youngsters.

The move, which will be put to all 70 Endsleigh clubs, should also ensure the continued prosperity of the League Cup. With English participation in the Uefa Cup due to increase next season, it heads off the possibility that others could follow United's example.

The League denied that the proposal is a sop to senior clubs, but the offer to European contenders of two free weeks at the start of the season helps offset the possible devaluation of the competition, because after 1997 Uefa will insist that those countries in which the premier league has more than 18 clubs will not be allowed to send the winners of its league knock-out competition into Europe.

Some opposition can be expected, however, from the lower divisions because with 12 fewer fixtures each participating club will receive a reduced share from the pool.

It seems certain that United will put out something approaching a full strength line- up, injuries permitting, when they face Newcastle in tomorrow's third round.

Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said recently that the FA Cup should also introduce a similar facility permitting those involved in Europe to sidestep their first scheduled fixture. An FA spokesman said he could not rule out a similar change being introduced at some stage.