Mid-season rule changes are few and far between, but this week brought a notification from the EFL that the use of substitutions during all league competitions had increased from three to five following a vote held by all 72 clubs.
Manager Chris Beech revealed at his virtual press conference on Thursday morning that he’d voted against the proposal, but that he would now reassess the implications with this weekend being the first time that five of the seven named substitutes can be utilised.
“I got asked the question from the club’s perspective and I voted against it,” he said. “In terms of where it is now, I’m adaptable.
“I think it favours lower-league clubs with bigger budgets; if you’ve got outstanding players but you’ve got 25 of them, and you’re paying quite a lot of money for them, you’ve now got five more available.
“It’s a real game-changer in tactics and match preparation; if you’re going against an opponent and not doing very well, you can make five changes at half-time and you’re playing 50 per cent of a new team.
“I also think, which has been quite apparent with a couple of teams who’ve come here, I call them dark arts, but it’s very difficult to create a tempo in a match at the moment with the match ball, because the referee’s demanding try your best to use the matchball even though the other balls are on cones at the side of the pitch.
“It’s going to be so hard to finish a game when another team’s using the five substitutes as time wasting factors. It doesn’t half interrupt a game anyway with a couple. If you’re in a situation where there could be five made - like the last two rounds of a boxing match petering out, if you’re under pressure you can sort of say time out, let’s have a little towel-down here.
“It will create, I would imagine, this discrepancy in the latter part of a game. That said, the positives are that it gives you chance if you’re not quite right yourself, to change and I would imagine it will help players not being sent off as much.
“If you have boys on yellows, you have the opportunity to effect a tactical substitution but also protect an individual going over the three substitutes to make sure they don’t get sent off. It is a massive game-changing decision.
“I find it a bit surreal to do it ‘in season’ but it’s been made. If anything, if it was done to protect injuries, it should have been done straight away, when they did these hybrid pre-seasons, but I’m not in charge of the EFL or Premier League. I’m just the manager at Carlisle.
“I’ve got to utilise the governance of the game to the best of my abilities. For example, what about if there’s two or three minutes left, you’re getting a lot of set plays, you’ve two or three players on your bench who might not be a left wing or centre midfield player, but they’re 6ft 3in and can head the ball in the back of the net.
“You can almost do powerplay set-plays. It’s a real game-changer and that’s why I didn’t really vote for the change. It also poses different financial situations on lower-league clubs, appearance and win bonus money. It might be small detail but it all adds up.
“From a player’s perspective, if you’re sat on the bench, you’ve got every chance of getting on. Every time in the past that the management had made the three substitutions, it’s socks off, shinpads out for the last 15 minutes, but it’s different now.”
Hearing him speak, it became clear that the new rule is something that all coaching staff are going to have to take into consideration when they plan for every game forward.
“There are positives and negatives but we’ll see how it goes,” he told us. “Like I say, you can make changes early in a game now. You can change tactics, you could even change half a team at half time.
“It’s a real game-changing decision from the governing bodies but it’s happened now, and our players will need to perform because there’ll be subs on the bench saying ‘play me.’
“What I’ll have to do is have a meeting with the players about the five substitute rule because in my day, when I started, I think we only had two subs.
“I do know if you weren’t starting a game you were highly disappointed. Players need to look at it a little bit different now in terms of being available. You might not start, but you could end up playing more minutes than a player who has started simply because of how they’re doing out there.
“It gives a manager opportunity to change things round whenever it’s needed, which is the good aspect of it.”