Darryl Eales' notes in the Sheffield United programme
Welcome to tonight’s game against league leaders Sheffield United.
This is the first opportunity I have had to reflect on the team’s magnificent achievement in reaching Wembley again – very few teams, outside the top five or six in the Premier League, appear at Wembley in successive seasons.
Our route to the final has been challenging to say the least, with victories in the knock-out stages over Southend, Scunthorpe, Bradford and, last week, in an epic game at Luton.
Michael Appleton and the players are relishing the opportunity to play at Wembley again and are determined to go one step further than last year’s runner-up status.
With this in mind, and that fact that Coventry are expecting to take 40,000 fans, I would like to reiterate my comments made on the radio on Friday.
The club is a big supporter of the competition and values Checkatrade’s sponsorship. It gives lower-league sides both a chance to play at Wembley and of winning silverware.
The competition this year did see a one-year experiment whereby Premier League U23 teams were included.
So, let me be unequivocal about both my personal view and the view of the entire Oxford United board as to the future of the competition:
1) The experience with U23 teams has been unsuccessful
2) The competition should be retained, but should revert to being for only League 1 and League 2 and the format should be reviewed
3) Our submission to the Football League will reflect this, ahead of the Football League meeting on 11th April.
On a separate but related issue, and to reconfirm my previous public comment, I am against an introduction of ‘B’ teams into the league structure. This view is endorsed by the entire OUFC board and, indeed, the vast majority of fans with whom I speak.
My hope is that all of us can now unite at Wembley to support the team and enjoy a fantastic day out. We have so much more that unites us than divides us, and on the issue of ‘B’ teams, I truly believe we speak with one voice!
One of the things that has been lost in translation, I believe, as a consequence of the ‘Checkatrade debate’ is that OUFC wants to be at the forefront of mature fan engagement. We may not agree all the time but I have sought to make myself accessible and to have an open and honest debate with all fans who wish this. In the age of social media, the crucial role of face-to-face dialogue is perhaps forgotten – this ensures opinion is not confused with fact! Going forward, I will redouble my efforts to engage and communicate more effectively and hope that fans continue to feel able to chat directly with me about any of the big issues which the club faces.
Before Wembley, we have the small matter of seven league games in a punishing schedule. We were all disappointed with the result against Bristol Rovers, but it is vital to retain perspective. League One is a hugely competitive league with very little separating many teams. Tonight’s game will be another test but we have the opportunity to bounce back against, in my view, the best side in the division. Bouncing back has been one of the great characteristics of the team over the past two years and I am sure we can expect a strong performance tonight with hopefully a result to match.
Enjoy the game tonight and COYY!