Premiership managers must absolutely hate these games - if you looked up "no win situation" in the dictionary then "cup game against lower league opposition" would undoubtedly pop up. If you win by a couple of goals, people wonder why you haven't won by more. If you have to play extra time after drawing, people wonder why you couldn't win. And if you lose - well, let's not think about that one. If you play a full strength squad, people wonder why you're knackering out your best players in a hectic league season. If you play a weakened squad, people accuse you of being arrogant and should the result not go the right way even more questions will be asked. It's a nightmare for players too as, after a big game on Saturday and another big game on Saturday, the last thing they need is a guaranteed blood and thunder encouter with a team from a couple of leagues below who will be up for claiming a scalp, whilst no doubt our players would rather be at home resting up.
Still, that's the League Cup for you. Given how this is Alain Perrin's first ever go at it we can't really be sure what sort of team he's going to name - whether or not the likes of Taylor, Mbesuma, Karadas, Vukic and Westerveld are going to get a starting berth to show us what they're worth. Will he decide that it's best to keep the defensive unit together and playing games? Or will he rest the likes of Stefanovic and Lua who have been carrying little niggles? (A Fratton Faithful prediction - if LuaLua does get rested to recover full fitness then wait for the sensationalist "LOMANO LUALUA WASN'T EVEN IN THE PORTSMOUTH TEAM YESTERDAY!" headlines on Wednesday morning).
If there's one thing we don't need to be warned about then it's cup upsets. Just mention the names "Watford", "Colchester", "Leyton Orient" or "Peterborough" and it's enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened Portsmouth supporter. We've had our share of unexpected and humiliating beatings in cup competitions and we have to make sure that we're professional - nothing more, nothing less. There's no need to go hell for leather and try and blitz them by eight goals (although it would be nice) - save the energy, do what's neccessary, no bookings or injuries and get our name into the dodgy seeded hat for the next round. Just like we did in our cup games last year at Tranmere and Cardiff, basically. Or indeed against Gillingham themselves - a single strike from Yakubu back in January saw us past them in the FA Cup Third Round.
On the face of it you would say no contest. We're 13th in the Premiership whilst they're 19th in League One and haven't won in the best part of a month - including losing the last three on the spin, two of them at home. But only a fool would underestimate the potential for a minor upset; the League Cup doesn't quite have the history or the sentimentality as attached to the FA Cup but Gillingham will still be looking for a good result to kick start their season. Let's make sure it isn't us.
Or at the very least, let's make sure it's more exciting than our 2-0 defeat on Boxing Day a few years ago. Or the 0-0 on New Year's day the season before that. Even the last two results against them - both 1-0 wins - were incredibly dull, although to be fair I think we'd all take the same outcome again. I'm thinking more of the Zamperini last minute winner 2-1 affair as something to aim at.