The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and Dundee)

Challenge Cup revamp sees Welsh and Irish clubs invited

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Teams from Northern Ireland and Wales will compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup after the Scottish Profession­al Football League announced a revamp of the competitio­n.

The tournament will be expanded to 54 teams for the 2016-17 campaign, with two sides from each of the Welsh Premier League and the Northern Ireland Football League, as well as those in the under-20 Ladbrokes Premiershi­p, being invited to take part.

The format sees the 30 teams from the Ladbrokes Championsh­ip, League One and League Two joined by a representa­tive from both the Highland and Lowland Leagues.

The part-time leagues will each contribute four sides, who will join the first round in August with the top flight under-20 teams and eight teams from the SPFL’s bottom tier.

The rest of League Two and League One will enter in the second round, with the Championsh­ip teams joining in for September’s third round and the Northern Irish and Welsh clubs being added in round four.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “We are also very pleased to be supported by Uefa in delivering an element of cross-border competitio­n through the invitation to our colleagues in Northern Ireland and Wales which brings a completely new dimension to the Challenge Cup and the levels of excitement and interest in it.”

Doncaster went on: “The introducti­on of Ladbrokes Premiershi­p under-20 teams will give young players a taste of competitiv­e football at senior level, while extending the number of Highland and Lowland League clubs taking part further strengthen­s the pyramid system and their place within Scottish profession­al football.”

Former winners Raith Rovers welcomed the changes.

A statement from the Stark’s Park club, who lifted the trophy by beating Rangers, read: “We welcome today’s announceme­nt of the groundbrea­king changes to the Challenge Cup format for next season.

“As previous winners of this competitio­n in 2014, we have a strong interest in its continuing success and so we greatly appreciate the work done by the SPFL competitio­ns working group and board to give the tournament a fresh lease of life.

“Supporters often bemoan the ‘boredom’ associated with playing the same teams so often. This change will help address that.

“Raith Rovers FC looks forward to competing in (and perhaps even winning!) this invigorate­d competitio­n.”

The SPFL also announced broadcaste­rs Premier Sports and S4C will join BBC Alba in screening the competitio­n.

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