The Imps take on League Two side Doncaster tonight, with one eye on progression after two matches in the EFL Trophy.
The maths are complicated in this competition because of two points for a draw with a penalty shoot-out win, but it is a fact that should City beat Doncaster, they’ll be in the next stage of the tournament. Remember, we have already thrashed Barnsley 3-0, meaning we top the group with three points. Doncaster are next on two, with Newcastle U21s on one and Barnsley on none.
If we win, we’ll be on six, with Doncaster on two, meaning they can’t catch us. That means only Barnsley and Newcastle could catch us, but they will drop points against each other. If Barnsley were to beat Newcastle U21s and Doncaster, they could feasibly go above us on goal difference, but nobody else could. The same goes for Newcastle U21s – if they beat Barnsley, they’ll move onto four points, so could go to seven by beating us, but we’d still be second.
If we draw with Doncaster, much depends on the outcome of the shootout. If we won the shootout, we’d be on five points and Doncaster on three. Donny could then finish on six (above us), but they’d do so by beating Barnsley. Therefore, for us not to progress, Newcastle U21s would have to beat Barnsley and then get a favourable result against us. If we were to lose to Doncaster on penalties, the group is still wide open, as it is if we lose the game.
Whilst that might have twisted your melon, the fact is a win for the Imps tonight guarantees progression to the next round, as well as a further £10,000. It sounds like small-fry, but don’t be fooled; this is the tournament to win. Dare I say, from a financial point of view, there are as many merits to progressing from the group stage of this competition as there would be going and winning at Bristol City in the EFL Cup. A win there would give us the potential for a big draw, but prize money is more abundant in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Is a win against Doncaster likely? You’d certainly like to think so, with them being stranded in midtable in League Two. We’ve already beaten them soundly in the EFL Cup, so there should be no reason why we can’t do the same in this competition. Up until the start of September, their defeat against us was their only reverse of the season, but they’ve lost three League Two games on the spin, and have struggling Crawley at the weekend. That should mean changes to their XI for this encounter.
“We will look quite strong. There will still probably be one or two youngsters,” said Doncaster boss Gary McSheffrey. “We will give valuable minutes to players that need it, and we will probably have a strong bench in case we need to make any impact changes. Some of the lads won’t be capable of 90 (minutes) yet. They will probably play 45 minutes or an hour.”
For their last EFL Trophy game, they made ten changes from their starting XI in the league. When they played us in the EFL Cup, they only made four changes from their win at Sutton. It suggests one of two things; they either take the League Cup more seriously, or they viewed us as more worthy opponents than Newcastle Under 21s. My belief is we’ll see perhaps six changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Swindon this weekend, presenting us with the chance of progression. It would be nice to go into the Newcastle U21s game with nothing (other than £10k) riding on it, giving the game the lack of credibility it deserves.
As for us, I fully expect changes; Jay Benn will likely get a start, as will Charles Vernam. We might see returning players such as Max Sanders, Adam Jackson and Tom Hopper, and Jordan Wright will almost certainly start in goal. I imagine Jacob Davenport will get his first outing in an Imps shirt, with Jamie Robson also likely to start. It could be a strong Imps side, even with key players being rested, and if we’re in the right frame of mind, we could be looking at our third win on the spin going into the enforced break. Oddly, the last time that happened was April 2021, and the middle win of the three? Bristol Rovers away, following a clean sheet at home (MK Dons 4-0) and a win at Burton (1-0) during which Danny Rowe played. In a further quirk of fate, his bigger brother Tommy Rowe could play for Doncaster tomorrow night.
I do love a coincidence. Let’s just hope we get the win, leaving us looking for our fourth on the spin away at Bolton Wanderers; that hasn’t happened since the opening four matches of the League One campaign in 2019/20.