Steve Bruce says Covid-hit clubs fielding youth teams ‘devalues the FA Cup’

Mark Staniforth, PA
·3-min read

Steve Bruce says fielding youth teams in the FA Cup “devalues” the competition even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis – and has questioned the morality of continuing the season at all.

Despite his own squad still struggling with the aftermath of its own outbreak, the Newcastle boss is determined to name a strong line-up for Saturday’s third-round trip to Arsenal.

Aston Villa and Derby have both indicated they will field youth teams in their matches against Liverpool and Chorley respectively due to their squads being depleted due to the virus.

Bruce said: “I think it devalues the FA Cup.

“We understand the restrictions, the season has been squashed and there is no room for anything else. (But) to play weakened teams and your youth team is not the way round it for me, personally.”

Newcastle are still feeling the after-effects of their own coronavirus outbreak which forced the postponement of their Premier League match at Villa on December 1.

Captain Jamaal Lascelles was only given the green light to resume training this week after shaking off the virus, while Alain Saint-Maximin has returned to Tyneside but is still awaiting the all-clear.

Bruce admitted he was conflicted about continuing the season, adding: “We have had two players who were very, very sick and one or two members of staff who were nearly hospitalised.

“It’s not been easy but yes we’ll keep going along – financially it’s right but maybe morally it’s wrong.

“All of us are suffering and we are the lucky ones providing an entertainment that people are tuning into to watch, but there will come a stage where we have to make a decision, we hope in the next two or three weeks, (because) we don’t want to see these outbreaks.”

Despite having Lascelles back on the training pitch for the best part of a week, Bruce will exercise caution over his return and admitted it may take more time before the captain and Saint-Maximin are back up to match fitness.

“We’re edging towards it but certainly Alain and Jamaal have been the ones who have suffered as much as anybody,” added Bruce.

“The big thing now is just how Jamaal feels. He’s been out for a long time and Alain’s been out for six weeks and not been able to do anything at all, so it’s another challenge to get him up and running again but hopefully there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Saint-Maximin found himself at the centre of a debate over whether or not he had breached quarantine rules on his return to the club from France after being pictured on social media at a Tyneside supermarket, prompting his club to release a statement on Friday evening.

It read: “Following a request from the media, Newcastle United can confirm that Allan Saint-Maximin did not contravene any UK quarantine rules during a visit to a supermarket in Newcastle on Thursday evening.

“Allan will continue to adhere to all quarantine rules and Covid-19 guidelines and will follow return to training protocols.

“The club considers this matter closed and will not be issuing further comment.”

Despite his reduced options Bruce will look to keep changes to a minimum, with Martin Dubravka set to replace Karl Darlow in goal, and only Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis definitely ruled out due to injury.

He admitted his determination to improve the Magpies’ dismal record in cup competitions was only increased by quarter-final defeat to Manchester City last year and a last-eight loss to Championship Brentford in the EFL Cup just before Christmas.

“I’m a bit disappointed that we’ve got to two quarter-finals and didn’t get past them, so I’m treating the Cup as seriously as I possibly can,” added Bruce.

“We blew a wonderful opportunity a month ago to get to a semi-final, so yes, there will be a few changes tomorrow, but we could have done with an easier tie and we’ll treat it with the respect that Arsenal deserve.”