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League One

The EFL Trophy: The competition nobody wants

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Surrounded by controversy, protest and boycotts, the Football League Trophy last night returned with an all new format. Despite the introduction of regional group stages and a bizarre decision to ban sides from drawing (more on that later) the most talked about change will continue to be the inclusion of Premier League development squads.

Sixteen clubs with category 1 academy teams were invited to participate, to, in the words of Football League Chief Executive Shaun Harvey, ‘rejuvenate this competition and also assist the development of the very best young players in English football.’ Thankfully the league and Mr Harvey were soon embarrassed when the biggest sides, barring Chelsea, all rejected the invitation. Unfortunately, ten other PL sides, along with several championship teams, agreed to participate.

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The common argument from Football League clubs, whether it be chairmen, managers or supporters, is that the move derives from Premier League greed and looks only after the interest of larger clubs. Traditionally, whilst being treated somewhat comically by supporters in part due to the competition’s sponsorship deals, (most famously Johnstone’s Paint) the EFL Trophy has provided League 1 and 2 sides with a real chance of a trip to Wembley.

Now the final could realistically feature two ‘development’ sides, essentially B teams with as many outcast squad players than youth prospects. Within the new guidelines, League sides are required to field at least 5 first team players in their starting 11, whilst the invited teams must select 6 under 21’s.

Unsurprisingly fans of lower league side appear to have had enough. Rather than be thrilled by the idea of spending a weeknight seeing their team play a ‘competitive’ fixture against the what the EFL continue to describe as ‘Everton’ or ‘Southampton’ rather than the reality of ‘Stoke B’, many have stayed away, leading to some stark attendance statistics:

2016/17

EFL Trophy 30/08/16

These can be easily compared with the attendances for the 1st round of last years’ competition (last years’ 1st round was a knockout stage)

EFL Trophy 1st round 15/16
First of all, looking at the average attendances (this has to be used rather than totals due to 2016/17 having almost double the number of fixtures) the average number of fans attending games at this round dropped by 436. Initially this sounds insubstantial but it is a 30% drop on the equivalent fixtures last year.

Of course, some of this decline could be caused by an increased number of ‘smaller sides’ hosting matches this time round. To compare with last year, I have extracted the fixtures where the same side played at home in both seasons. Leaving us with 8 fixtures, an admittedly small yet interesting sample:

EFL Trophy comparison
Of the 8 sets of fixtures, five saw significant falls in attendance (highlighted in yellow) from the other 3, Millwall had almost identical numbers, Northampton increased but were promoted last season and Yeovil faced Portsmouth who have a significantly larger away following than Barnet.

Three out of the four sides who were at home both years and played B sides this year saw steep drops in attendance, with Carlisle, Scunthorpe and AFC Wimbledon seeing figures fall 53%, 33% and 63% respectively. The total average of these 8 fixtures is also a substantial 28% lower.

It is worth noting that AFC Wimbledon have shown that they are strongly against the inclusion of B sides, which will have had an impact on supporters. There are however other sides who had attendance records broken last night.

The crowd of 1,540 at Bolton (against Everton B) is the lowest competitive turnout in the stadium’s history, and Port Vale had their lowest competitive game attendance for 30 years with only 1,198 wanting to see a game against Derby’s reserves.

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The decision to not only allow development sides, from both Premier League and championship clubs, but let them feature the likes of Emnes, 28 (Swansea) Charlie Adam, 30 (Stoke) and Tony Andreu, 28 (Who scored a hat-trick for Norwich) only degrades the competition further.

The league executives’ argument that this would provide a platform for young English players is dismantled even further when assessing the nationalities of those who featured for the development sides. For example, Andreu, who scored a hat-trick for Norwich is French, Reading’s side included sven foreign born players and Swansea’s starting XI had only three Englishmen

Combining this with the decision to resolve group stage draws with penalty shoot-outs which give the winner an extra point means that this seasons EFL trophy may just be the most ridiculous competition to ever exist in the English game.

Whilst It is usually sad to see empty stadiums and hearing of fans having to miss out on seeing their team; this time it is necessary, the recent changes should not be accepted without a fight. Hopefully, the numbers cannot be ignored.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by dan.westwell

Joe is a suffering Blackpool fan. Having banned himself from matches in protest at England's worst club owners; he now watches any other game, often writing about them here for The Boot Room.

FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Barnsley

Why Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment at Leeds United is a risk worth taking

Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment as Leeds United manager is a risk, but one worth taking in order to push for Premier League promotion, writes Ryan Smart.

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Photo: Reuters

Leeds United acted swiftly in the 36 hours following Thomas Christiansen’s sacking on Sunday night, appointing the now ex-Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom to replace him by Tuesday morning.

Heckingbottom leaves the Tykes having signed a new contract with the club only one week earlier.

His release clause stood at just under £500,000, a sum Leeds had no problems in paying.

Heckingbottom’s appointment does represent a gamble for the Elland Road hierarchy, with the 40-year-old having had under two years of managerial experience.

He took over at Barnsley when Lee Johnson left for Bristol City in February 2016, promoted from the role of Development Coach at the club.

He tasted instant success, guiding the club to Football League Trophy success and following that up with a thrilling 3-1 play off final win over Millwall, allowing for a return to the Championship.

Barnsley have had to endure plenty of upheaval since promotion, selling star players like Conor Hourihane, Alfie Mawson and Sam Winnall.

In the 2016/17 campaign, they signed 16 players, selling on another 15.

This season, they have signed even more (17), while moving on a futher 19, although the majority of those were released.

Those figures have made it very difficult for Heckingbottom to establish stability at the club, showcasing how good a job he has done, comfortably keeping Barnsley in the division last season.

The Tykes have not been as consistent this season, having only won one out of their last 16 games in all competitions, but they still sit clear of the relegation zone at present.

Heckingbottom’s new contract, signed last week, showed that the owners did have faith in him to carry on the good work he has started and establish Barnsley as a solid Championship side.

In contrast, Leeds are not normally associated with stability, especially under the Massimo Cellino reign, although Andrea Radrizzani’s takeover of the club has signalled a positive change in terms of how the club operates.

He communicates more with the fans, keeping them updated throughout the summer of their managerial search, one which eventually ended with ex-Apoel manager Christiansen taking charge.

He also ensured that criticism of the club’s new badge last month was heard by the board, with Leeds now considering fan-designed options.

Gone are the days of loan signings from feeder sides, such as Cagliari, when Cellino was in charge, with a more focused view on transfers now apparent.

Although the transfer activity has been slightly erratic – nearly 30 players have brought into the club across all levels this season – they do seem to be bringing in a higher calibre of player, and the current squad definitely has the potential to be a top six side.

Heckingbottom has a job on his hands in order to correct the club’s poor form as of late, but the truth is that if he can get a run of positive results, as well as getting the fans back onside, the only way is up for the Yorkshire outfit.

It is a risk for both parties as those fans want instant success, with the club having been in the Championship for eight seasons now.

They are still exceptionally well supported both in England and across the world, and the size of the club and the resources available should make them a Premier League side.

The size of a club does not guarantee success, however, and Heckingbottom needs to prove to the fans and the board that he has what it takes to get the club back into the big time.

An 18 month contract gives him at least this and next season to achieve that aim, and he knows that this opportunity is going to be his best chance of reaching the top flight of English football.

It is a gamble on his part to take the job, and a gamble by the Leeds board, but one that neither will be regretting if they find themselves back in the Premier League under Heckingbottom’s management.

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Exclusives

Abu Ogogo – Shrewsbury promotion hopes, Paul Hurst and Arsenal education

With Shrewsbury Town currently exceeding all expectations, occupying third place in the race for automatic promotion in League One, The Boot Room caught up with club captain Abu Ogogo.

Jake Jackman

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Shrewsbury Town have been the surprise package in League One this season and are challenging for promotion to the Championship.

At the time of writing, the Shrews are in third position, but if they win their game in hand, they will move back into the automatic promotion places. Quite simply, it would be a remarkable achievement if they were to return to the second tier for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

The two teams they are in direct competition with, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic, have both been in the Premier League in recent years.

This underlines how good the Shrews have been, especially considering the other two contenders will have bigger resources at their disposal. Manager Paul Hurst has built a good squad at New Meadow with a lot of young talent being given a chance to shine.

One of the leaders of the dressing room is Abu Ogogo, who has over 300 Football League matches to his name. The 28-year-old is the club captain and has played a major role in the team’s success this season.

The midfielder spoke to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview, revealing the reasons behind the team’s success:

“The manager has done a really good job and built a winning mentality at the club. He’s brought in good players, but also the right characters as well. I think we are also a lot fitter.

“We work hard every single day and we take that into games. We overrun and overpower teams and we’ve got good footballers. We have belief and quality, and that is a good combination to have.”

At the beginning of the season, few would have tipped the Shrews to challenge for promotion, but the likes of Jon Nolan, Ben Godfrey, Dean Henderson, Shaun Whalley and Ogogo himself have performed consistently to a high standard for the club.

They are a cohesive unit that is tough to break down and they always pose a threat when they have possession. Their individual work rate makes them difficult to play against and their high fitness levels are central to that.

League One is a division that grows stronger with every season. There are a number of big clubs currently in the division and that makes Shrewsbury’s current position even more impressive.

Blackburn Rovers have lifted the Premier League before, while Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic have both won the FA Cup during this century. Charlton Athletic are another club that have a history at a higher level.

Ogogo believes that the division is the strongest that it has been for years, but he is hoping that his team can follow in the footsteps of Yeovil Town and Burton Albion to earn a surprise promotion to the Championship.

“It is the strongest that it has been in a few years. You mentioned four teams there. Obviously you’ve got Bradford as well. The list goes on.

We’ve done very well to be in the position that we are considering we were favourites to go down and how our seasons have gone in the last two years, but we don’t look at the names of the teams we are playing or the size of the club.

It’s eleven vs eleven on the pitch and, to date, we have more than held our own. It’s a very tough league, but we’ve done well so far. But there is a long way to go.

“It is a massive achievement considering how tough the league is this year and how our last couple of years have gone. Going from staying up to getting promoted to the Championship would be a massive achievement. It is possible. Yeovil have done it. Burton have done it. They are a very good example.

“Hopefully we can do what they have and get promoted and stay in the Championship.”

There will be neutrals across the country that are willing Shrewsbury to continue their good form and finish in the top two of League One this season. The modern game is becoming controlled by money at the highest level and it is encouraging to see a well-run club in the Football League earning success the right way.

They have grown naturally and, as Ogogo alludes to, the players go into every game knowing that they can hold their own, even if the opposition are a previous Premier League or FA Cup winner.

One of the key figures responsible for Shrewsbury’s rapid growth is Paul Hurst. The 43-year-old arrived at the club last season and helped them secure their League One status.

It would have been easy for the manager to target survival once again, especially as the odds suggested they would struggle. However, he is ambitious and he has built a winning mentality at New Meadow.

Ogogo was full of praise for the talented coach for the positive impact that the former Grimsby Town manager has had on his own career and the club overall.

“Paul has been very good for my career and all of the players at Shrewsbury. He’s come in and changed our club completely. He’s worked miracles, to be fair, and it’s no fluke that he has been linked with Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday in the past. He is a young, ambitious manager and he will have ambitions of his own to manage as high as possible. 

“He is a good man manager. You can talk to him about other stuff outside of football as well. He and his assistant [Chris] Doigy work very hard on the training pitch. They show you clips and parts of your game that you can improve on. He’s been massive for myself and I know he’s been played a huge part for all the other boys as well.”

The progress Shrewsbury have made since the appointment of Paul Hurst was most evident against West Ham United. They played two matches against the Premier League side after forcing a replay in the FA Cup.

The Shrews were the better team in the first meeting, which took place at New Meadow. They had more possession (55.3%) and had nine shots to the Hammers’ four. Ogogo played the full ninety minutes and was one of the standout players on the pitch. The midfielder made five tackles, won four aerial duels and completed two dribbles.

The 28-year-old was understandably proud of the team’s performance that day and believes it will benefit them in the long-term.

“When the draw was made, everyone expected us to get beat by four or five. We played them at home and more than held our own. We missed a couple of chances and we were the better team on the day.

We should have won that game. In the second leg, we went to their place and were five minutes from penalties. We had a good chance to go 1-0 up and dug in. It was backs-to-the-wall stuff for some stages of the game, but that was to be expected. We can take a lot of encouragement and heart from that.

“We played an established Premier League team and it took them a hundred-and-however minutes to score against us, so we can take a lot of positives from the performance. We more than held our own against Premier League players, so when we go back to League One, we know that we can more than hold your own in this division.”

It will have been encouraging for Ogogo to hold his own against Premier League players after failing to break into the Arsenal team as a young player. He was a part of the Gunners’ academy and, although he didn’t feature for the first-team, he did make the bench on a couple of occasions.

“It was great. Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in the world and at the time, they had world class players such as Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie etc. They play football the right way and like to pass, which is how most people think football should be played.

“It is how I like playing as well, so to be brought up in their facilities, playing with those players and being coached by Arsene Wenger, Steve Bould etc, it was an unbelievable experience.

He spent five years at the Premier League club and his best experience during that spell was an impressive showing during the club’s 2006-7 FA Youth Cup run. The Gunners were seconds away from reaching the final and his performances were rewarded with a first professional contract to continue his development in North London.

Ogogo looks back at that time with great fondness, but he feels young players should now look to play senior football as quickly as possible, rather than playing in the academy set-up.

“For me personally, you should go out and play mens football. Academy football is about development. Of course you want to develop, you never stop developing, but you want to play matches that mean something with points on the line.

“To get out at a young age and play mens football will only be good for your career. I would encourage any young player to get out on loan as early as they can and to play as many games as they can.”

Despite not featuring for the Arsenal first-team, it allowed Ogogo to get his foot in the door of professional football. Towards the end of his time at the Emirates Stadium, he went out on loan to Barnet and performed well in League Two. A

permanent move away from the Gunners shortly followed as he joined Dagenham & Redbridge and he became a central figure at the club for six years before finally ending up at Shrewsbury.

When asked about his future aspirations, the midfielder spoke of his desire to develop further and earn an opportunity at a higher level.

“I want to keep developing as a player, whether that is with Shrewsbury or somewhere else. I’m like every other footballer you speak to, they’ll say they want to play at the highest level, which is the Premier League.

“I’m 28 now and I have a good chance of getting promoted with Shrewsbury to the Championship. I don’t like looking too far ahead. I want to train hard every day and play as well as I can in matches and try to contribute to the team. The rest will take care of itself, but I want to play as high as I can.”

As clear from his comments, Ogogo doesn’t get too ahead of himself and there will be no player in the Shrewsbury dressing room that will be thinking about promotion. It will be each player’s aim, but they will be taking nothing for granted.

Paul Hurst will be the first to make that clear to the players as they are competing with bigger clubs. However, Yeovil Town and Burton Albion have shown that it is possible to win promotion to the Championship as a smaller outfit too. If the Shrews continue to perform with the hunger and consistency that they have shown all season, they will take some beating.

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