Worthington defends integrity of Cup contest

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The Independent Online

THE SPONSORS of the Worthington Cup said yesterday that the competition is still important to fans, despite some some clubs' refusal to field full-strength sides.

THE SPONSORS of the Worthington Cup said yesterday that the competition is still important to fans, despite some some clubs' refusal to field full-strength sides.

On Wednesday, both Manchester United and Chelsea were knocked out of the tournament after playing what were effectively reserve teams, while Arsenal and Sunderland played on Tuesday with sides almost bereft of first-team players.

The sponsors also defended some dismal recent attendances - which reached a new low when only 8,843 turned up to see Wednesday's all-Premiership tie between Middlesbrough and Watford - by saying that the Worthington Cup was still more popular than other sporting events, including the rugby union World Cup.

"We look forward to the rest of the Worthington Cup, which has seen the introduction of an innovative new draw format and, at the halfway stage of both competitions, over 70 per cent more fans attend Worthington Cup games than the RugbyWorld Cup," Mike Flynn, Bass Breweries' head of sponsorship, said.

The Football League added that the "vast majority" of clubs have fielded full-strength sides, and pointed out that the tournament's winners will be rewarded with a place in next season's Uefa Cup.

"I certainly don't think the competition is being devalued," Peter Rowe, the League's director of communications, said yesterday. "There are a few clubs who operate a squad system, and we have to adapt to that in modern football."

Chelsea's manager, Gianluca Vialli, defended his decision to put out the side that lost to Huddersfield on Wednesday night: "We had six internationals on the pitch, but something went wrong. We played 11 very good players but they had not played together often before so they lacked understanding."

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