Checkatrade Trophy Update

The penultimate game in our Checkatrade Trophy group took place last night, with Everton U21’s (erroneously reported as U23’s by Mansfield Town) lost 1-0 at Field Mill.

Steve Evans, the same manager who played down the defeat of his side by City in our group game, hailed the result as an achievement against a very good set of Everton players. It seems winning against Notts County and Everton has reignited his love for the competition.

Anyhow, that means with one game to play we are top of Group F with Notts County set to visit Sincil Bank next Tuesday. Only a sound thrashing at the hands of the Magpies would now see us eliminated.

In fact, for us to be eliminated Notts County would have to beat us by four clear goals. A repeat of the 4-1 defeat at Meadow Lane would wipe out our goal difference, but we’d still qualify ahead of Mansfield Town by virtue of our victory against them. The only team to beat Danny Cowley’s side by four clear goals during his tenure are Arsenal.

There wasn’t a side that beat Braintree by four clear goals during their tenure either. You have to go back to 20th March 2014 for a Danny Cowley side to be beaten so heavily, Boreham Wood inflicting a 4-0 defeat on Concord Rangers. Rather ironically, Lee Angol played for Boreham Wood that day, a player likely to suffer if Mansfield are eliminated as he plays for Mansfield Reserves at present!

So City look like they may progress to the next round of the much-maligned trophy, bringing Wembley on step closer. I’m not getting into debate on its merits now, but the lure of finally playing at the home of football is enticing, I imagine if we were to progress further then Danny would begin to slip a few more of his established stars into the side. After all, Michael Bostwick started the Everton game proving Danny s ‘in it to win it’.

The last time we got past the first stage of the competition was 2003/04, a first round win against Telford United looked set to give us a cup run of sorts. Francis Green, Marcus Richardson and Mark Bailey scored, either underlining Keith’s belief it was a cup worth winning or highlighting our small squad! In the next round we despatched Chesterfield 4-3, but just as we were dreaming of Wembley non-league Halifax beat us 1-0 thanks to a Kevin Sandwith goal. Keith liked what he saw from Sandwith and signed him six months later. Niall McNamara, Richard Liburd and Dene Cropper started that match, maybe suggesting that the league had taken priority!

West Ham youths are proving to be a real handful in their group, six points from two games and on course to reach the next round

The main controversy around the competition this year is the inclusion of top academy sides, but the old adage ‘boys against men’ has proven to be true with very few of the top flight sides looking as though they’ll progress. In Northern Group B, Middlesbrough are already eliminated, in E West Brom have already gone and both Everton and Sunderland have suffered the same fate. Manchester City, Newcastle, Stoke and Leicester all sit outside the top two in their groups going into the final game.

It is a different picture down south. The West Ham youths are proving to be a real handful in their group, six points from two games and on course to reach the next round. Swansea have already qualified also, they won all three group games against Forest Green, Newport and Cheltenham. Spurs kids are out, Chelsea face an uphill battle to progress and it’s in the balance for Fulham, Brighton and Southampton. Even Reading U21’s, with one point from two games, could still make the next round.

The trophy’s integrity has been brought into question and that debate will rage on (not on these pages though). The big question hangs over whether one of the youth teams will progress to a Wembley final, if that was the case then the competition would lose any shred of dignity it held within the Football League community. However, that looks highly unlikely in the Northern Section.

What price on a Lincoln v West Ham U21’s final, with Danny Cowley’s West Ham allegiance the main talking point in traditional media? It’s entirely possible at this stage.

Just as long as we don’t have a ridiculous red card against Notts County that changes the game, I’ll be happy.