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4th September 2017

When a company decides to enter a sponsorship agreement one of the main objectives is to get its product brand known and in that respect both Check-a-Trade and Carabao have done a fantastic job in making us aware of services and products many of us had never previously heard of.

Job done, even if in the case of these two companies their names have been featured mostly due to the negativity perceived with the football cup competitions they have become involved with.

Middlesbrough have a side in each competition in two weeks' time and the 'League Cup' draw hasn't been that favourable to the club, albeit the vast majority of Boro fans heard about it when they woke up as only the most dedicated of followers would have risen for the 4.15am draw live from China.

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It was the choice of venue and more importantly the timing that got the sponsors more coverage than they could have hoped for when signing up to join a long list of financial supporters of a cup that will always be referred to as the 'Coca Cola Cup' on Teesside as it was under that heading that the club picked up its first piece of silverware back in 2004.

The EPL statement justifying the bizarre scheduling of the draw was it wanted to spread the word about the competition to a greater audience worldwide. How soon before the final is played in China or Thailand?

As we all know money talks and whilst the 39th Premier League game being taken abroad talks have quietened down it is perhaps inevitable that sooner or later loyal supporters will be booking flights as opposed to coaches to get to an away game.

Perhaps more relevant in the short term is the interest in the Cup itself as many clubs including Championship sides treat it as an opportunity to field squad members and only really get interested when they reach the later stages.

That being said only two teams outside of the top two divisions have made it through to the third round. There has been talk of change being required to increase the interest and popularity of the Cup with some even suggesting that it be scrapped altogether. In Scotland the early rounds of their version have replaced the need for pre-season friendlies and the whole competition is finished by November. Others have mooted the idea of making it a British Isles Cup with the competition including sides from Scotland, Northern Island and Wales.

Whatever happens it still presents the most realistic opportunity to win silverware and play in Europe and as such Boro supporters are keen to progress as far as possible as well as achieving the main aim of promotion back to the Premier League.

Aston Villa away seven days after we visit the Midlands for the League fixture wasn't the best draw but it presents another vital opportunity for Gary Monk to repeat what he did against Scunthorpe in the last round, namely give vital game time to members of the squad that so far this season have not manged many minutes in the Championship.

It was also a great opportunity to blood Marcus Tavernier and Lewis Wing showing all Academy players that there is an opportunity to gain first team game time if they are doing well. In the case of Wing, who was playing Northern League football a year ago the message goes much further than within the club itself.

Boro's Academy is held in the greatest regard within the game; they don't only try to produce footballers but also well rounded young men. It was perhaps therefore no surprise that 72 hours after their first team debuts Wing and Tavernier were in action for the Under 23s in their 1-0 derby victory over Newcastle United. I was at the game and apart from those two there are several others in Paul Stephenson's squad that Monk will be monitoring for the future.

The Check-a-Trade group stages sees Boro's side going to Accrington on the same night as the Seniors are at Villa; after last year's much maligned introduction of Academy sides to play in the competition that previously had been open only to League One and Two sides, it was somewhat surprising to see it continue.

Attendances against Under 21 sides were in the hundreds in most cases and hardly anyone had a good word to say about the format. The younger sides enjoyed little success against senior professionals and little benefit in the process.

Throwing the likes of Tavernier and Wing into a side full of experience was an excellent introduction putting them under far less pressure than including them in a team of same age players against older players. The reintroduction of 'Reserve team competitive football' has to be the way ahead to develop youngsters and ensure that those not selected for first team duty actually play some football.

In the meantime we have to stick with what we've got and as the competitions progress then perhaps more of us will be setting alarm clocks in the middle of the night to tune in to the draws.

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