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League One

The magic (or lack of) of the EFL Trophy trophy…

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Well, it’s been a while. But here we go again. Here’s to some consistency.

Back in June, the FA announced a revamp of the English League Trophy (formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), or the ‘Tinpot Trophy’ to many football league team supporters.

Academy teams were to feature for the first time, expanding the competition from 48 to 64 clubs – a gateway to higher attendances, increased prize money, opportunities for young talent to shine through, and a platform to restructure the Football League in the future.

The FA thought they were on to a winner.

Well, the reception was somewhat muted from clubs, with many big academy sides (Manchester United and Arsenal) declining to take part. League clubs cited issues such as extra travel expenses (as the competition is no longer regionalised), the inclusion of academy sides and the ‘make the rules up as you go along’ attitude to the new competition format.

As for fans, these plans went down like a lead balloon.

Nobody wants to watch West Ham’s kids take on a League 2 side on a winter’s Tuesday night, in a cup that doesn’t really matter, not even West Ham fans. Just imagine the final between Stoke Academy and Swansea Academy in front of a few thousand at Wembley. Embarrassing.

Fans were also wary of the fact the restructuring of the EFL Trophy was the first step towards League 3 – the inclusion of B Teams in the official English League system – something the vast majority of fans are against. Triggering plans for blanket boycotts of these matches, despite the FA expecting attendances to rise.

Six months on and we’ve reached the Quarter Final stages. And low and behold the concept has failed miserably. One academy team remains, illustrating that the ‘promising talent’ that the FA suggested hasn’t materialised, highlighted massively by League 2 relegation candidate Cheltenham’s 5-1 thrashing of Premier League champions Leicester City’s academy side.

Even less surprisingly following the mass coverage of the #BTeamBoycott on Twitter and the general acknowledgement from football league fans that this new concept has been horrifically executed has led to record-low attendances for competitive matches at grounds around the country, with over two-thirds of fixtures being witnessed by less than a thousand spectators, with just 392 lucky souls seeing Fleetwood take on Blackburn Rovers academy – a one-goal thriller.

When even football league teams are taking the proverbial by breaking FA rules and fielding under-strength teams, and in Bradford’s case playing a full strength team and then substituting their first team goalkeeper Colin Doyle after he had a ‘poor 45 seconds’ the FA have to ultimately admit defeat.

Don’t get me wrong, as a Wycombe fan I definitely wouldn’t sniff at another day at Wembley and some silverware to boot. But the dire performance of the EFL Trophy deserves a rye smile and a little ‘we told you so’ from League One and Two supporters.

20. Geography student from Oxford. Have a passion for all things football, be this at an international level, domestic level or non-league. My pieces are mostly opinion pieces and my experiences of football - they show that football is much more than just a game.

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FA Cup

Shrewsbury Town 0-0 West Ham: Three talking points from Montgomery Waters Meadow

Jake Jackman

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West Ham

West Ham United were fortunate to escape from a tricky away match against Shrewsbury Town with the tie still alive and heading for a replay. David Moyes made several changes, but the team that he put out was a strong one with a number of regular starters being selected to play. It was surprising that the visitors created so few chances and looked lacklustre throughout, especially in the attacking half.

Although the Premier League opposition didn’t play well, that shouldn’t discredit the performance from Shrewsbury. The League One side were excellent and looked the more likely winners on the day. It will be tough for them to go to the London Stadium and get through to the next round, but it will be a great spectacle and a good money earner for the club. Here are three talking points from Montgomery Waters Meadow:

Javier Hernandez at West Ham hasn’t worked

It has been a difficult season for Javier Hernandez after returning to the Premier League and he didn’t take his opportunity in the FA Cup. The Mexican international has not featured as much as he would have liked for the Hammers and it has completely destroyed his confidence. He didn’t look like he wanted to have the ball on Sunday and when he did, his decision making wasn’t great.

For a player that is renowned for his intelligent movement and predatory instincts, Hernandez was easily dealt with by a League One defence. He didn’t have any attempts on goal and ended the match with a pass success rate of 50%. Considering he has played for two of the biggest clubs in the world, he should have had a much bigger impact on the game.

The next month is going to be interesting to see what business West Ham will do in the transfer market, as they have yet to find a striker to rely on. It was hoped that Hernandez would be that player, but he has yet to live up to his billing. If the club do manage to sign a new striker, it could be that the Mexican pushes for a move away. It hasn’t worked for either party and a transfer away could be what is needed to reinvigorate his career.

Shrewsbury are a team full of confidence

The Shropshire team are currently in the promotion places in League One and could be set for promotion to the Championship if they continue in their current vein of form. This tie had the potential to destroy the confidence in the squad, but they approached it with no fear and they ended this match with the nation’s respect.

They can take the confidence gained from this performance and go back into the league campaign as a better team. West Ham may have been bad, but the performance of Shrewsbury had a major impact on that. Their midfielders dominated the central areas and their defence coped with two international forwards with relative comfort.

The player to catch the eye for the home side was Ben Godfrey. The midfielder is currently on loan from Norwich City and he got the better of Pedro Obiang and Cheikhou Kouyate in the middle of the park. Shrewsbury have been willing to give chances to young players and it would be a great story if they were to make one more step up the ladder to reach the Championship. Based on this performance, it would take a brave man to bet against them.

Declan Rice impressed again

There were few positives for West Ham as they escaped Shropshire still in the FA Cup, but the performance of Declan Rice was one of them. The teenager has had a surprising rise over the course of this season and he is now performing like an established Premier League player. He was the team’s best player against Tottenham during the week and he backed that up with another good display against lower league opposition.

It would have been easy for a young player to buy into his own hype and fallen short on Sunday, but he approached the game in the same manner. His attitude is to be commended and he is establishing himself as an important first team player for the Hammers.

During the match, he showed a willingness to battle with the Shrewsbury players and dug in deep. Rice won five aerial duels, completed two tackles and made a further six interceptions. It was an excellent performance from a teenager and it was needed as the home side were putting West Ham’s defence under pressure.

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Fleetwood Town

Fleetwood Town 0–0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Highbury Stadium

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Photo: Reuters

Jamie Vardy watched from the stands as his former side Fleetwood Town held Premier League Leicester City to a valiant draw at Highbury Stadium to earn a replay in their FA Cup third-round tie.

The Leicester striker was left out of the visiting squad after failing to recover from a groin injury in time to face his former club and in his absence there was a distinct lack of cutting edge around goal.

Andy King came closest for the Premier League side in a scrappy opening half, heading over from a corner, whilst Aleksander Dragovic’s back-pass very nearly ended up in his own net at the other end.

There wasn’t too much in the way of clear chances after the break either, although it was the hosts who looked more likely to snatch a winner when Ashley Hunter flashed some crosses across the box.

And it was Hunter who nearly earnt a dramatic injury-time win when his deflected effort from on the edge of the area hit the post and rebounded into the grateful arms of Leicester goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, and now the two sides will meet again at the King Power with the fourth-round at stake.

Vardy watches on as Leicester fail to inspire

Considering that the heightened build-up to Saturday’s third-round tie revolved around Jamie Vardy’s return to where it all began, it was a bit of an anti-climax when his absence from the Foxes’ matchday squad was confirmed an hour before kick-off.

Fleetwood Town was the place where the England striker’s fairy-tale story began back in 2011, scoring 34 goals in 42 games to help secure promotion to the Football League and taking the then non-league side to the FA Cup third-round for the first time in his only season at Highbury Stadium.

In truth it was always a race against time to be deemed fit to face his former side and, on balance, Leicester boss Claude Puel was wise not to risk his star forward – even if it was disappointing news for the footballing neutral and the home supporters.

As such Vardy watched on from the stands as a second-string Leicester side struggled to gain a foothold against their lower-ranked opposition, failing to have any sort of pace or tempo all game.

The fact that the Premier League side didn’t muster a single shot on target in the 90 minutes tells its own tale and Fleetwood goalkeeper Chris Neal wouldn’t have had many afternoons as quiet as this one over the past few months of the season.

It could have been far worse considering how much Fleetwood pushed late on, and manager Claude Puel will surely ring the necessary changes for the replay to ensure his team avoid any FA Cup upset.

Silva struggles on Leicester bow

Despite naming an under-strength starting eleven for the trip to Highbury, there was reason for Leicester fans to get excited as it offered the chance to see Adrien Silva start for the very first time.

The Portuguese international’s transfer from Sporting Lisbon has been well-documented over the past few months – with the move being denied over the summer due to necessary paperwork submitted 14 seconds late – but as the January window opened the move was able to be completed.

After making his Leicester bow as a second-half substitute in the 3-0 win at Huddersfield last time out he was given his full debut by boss Puel at the heart of the midfield, but he found it tough going.

It’s unlikely that Silva would have experienced anything like the Highbury pitch during his Sporting days but he was largely anonymous, not making any meaningful contribution either offensively or defensively and on the whole he was outshone by the performance of Fleetwood midfielder Markus Schwabl.

The fact that he was withdrawn on the hour mark after picking up a knock summed up his whole afternoon, and he’ll hope to set the record straight when Fleetwood come to town for the replay.

He wasn’t alone though, and aside from a few bursts down the left-hand side from the lively Demarai Gray over the course of the game there was little for the Foxes to get excited about.

Islam Slimani carried Leicester’s attacking hopes yet only managed 24 touches all game whilst even Shinji Okazaki and Marc Albrighton couldn’t impose themselves when coming on as late substitutes.

Fleetwood more than hold their own in historic tie

There may well have been 49 places and two divisions between the two sides prior to kick-off but you would not have been able to tell after Fleetwood Town put on a determined and gritty display.

The League One side’s route to the third-round hadn’t been without its troubles, needing to come from behind to see off non-league outfit Chorley in injury-time in their first-round tie, and the prospect of facing Premier League opposition for the first ever time was a potentially daunting one.

But Uwe Rosler’s side showed no sign of being over-awed by their opponents, drawing them into a scrappy affair on a pitch that certainly served as a leveller between themselves and the 2015/16 Premier League champions.

It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the hosts were the better team on the day too, weathering an extended period of Leicester possession during the first-half before upping the tempo on the hour mark and taking the game to the visitors.

One man at the forefront of their efforts was Ashley Hunter, labelled the ‘new Vardy’, and the 22-year-old showed where his nickname has come from with a number of blistering runs on the wings.

His acceleration and drive provided a glimpse of quality in a fairly drab affair and he was merely inches away from being the hero of the day when his effort in the dying moments hit the upright.

Leicester will undoubtedly prove to be a different proposition on their home turf when the replay occurs over the next few weeks but, on Saturday’s showing, Fleetwood will travel there with hope.

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Port Vale

Three reasons for Port Vale supporters to be optimistic for the New Year

Martyn Cooke

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Port Vale

The last decade has been a turbulent time for Port Vale supporters with the club going into administration, securing promotion to League One and suffering relegation back to the fourth tier of English football.

The club made a poor start to the new campaign under the stewardship of Michael Brown and it was little surprise to see the former Sheffield United midfield dismissed in late-September with the Valiants sitting 22nd in the table and facing the very real prospect of dropping out of the Football League.

However, with a new manager in place and results steadily improving there is now hope that Port Vale’s worst days are behind them and that the club can begin building for the future.

Here The Boot Room identifies three reasons why Port Vale supporters should be optimistic for the New Year.

Port Vale

The Neil Aspin effect

When Neil Aspin walked into Vale Park for his first day as manager on October 4th 2017 he would have found a club that was in turmoil, spiralling towards a second successive relegation and had a fan base that had become completely dismayed and frustrated by what they were seeing both on and off the pitch. However, the arrival of the 52-year-old, already recognised as a Port Vale legend having made over 300 appearances for the Valiants between 1989 and 1999, has stimulated a dramatic upturn in the club’s fortunes.

Aspin has helped to unify the supporters and galvanise the current group of players, guiding the team from 22nd place in League Two up to 19th. He has gone back to basics and suddenly Port Vale are no longer so easy to beat with results and performances drastically improving. A return of 16 points from a possible 27 accurately demonstrates the progress that the team has made under Aspin’s management.

There is still plenty of work to do, with the Valiants only one point clear of the relegation zone, but Aspin’s arrival has stimulated a revival at Vale Park that has supporters looking forward to the future.

 

The January transfer window

The dramatic upturn in results at Vale Park following the arrival of Neil Aspin is even more remarkable considering the squad that he inherited.

There has been an astonishing turnover of players at Port Vale over the previous two seasons following Bruno Ribiero’s failed ‘foreign revolution’ transfer policy and Michael Brown’s amateurish attempt to correct the mistakes of his predecessor.

Aspin inherited a squad of 33 players that was unbalanced, heavily reliant on loan transfers and characterised by a lack of quality throughout. The fact that he has facilitated a revival at the club is tantamount to his managerial expertise.

However, the January transfer window will provide Aspin with the perfect opportunity to begin to mould the current Port Vale squad into what he wants it to be. Expect the 52-year-old to trim down the size of the squad, remove any deadwood and begin to bring in the players that will genuinely provide supporters with some hope for the future.

The club’s transfer policy in recent years has been a scatter-gun approach with little thinking or long-term planning behind decisions, but under Aspin there is a sense of trust that he will take a much more thoughtful and purposeful approach to the January window.

The major positive for supporters is that League Two does not consist of teams that are blessed with an abundance of top-quality talent. A handful of good signings in January and a little bit of momentum on the pitch could easily provide the stimulus for the club to climb into the relative safety of mid-table and, maybe, even higher.

The return of The Pope

One of the few meaningful pieces of transfer business that Michael Brown agreed in the summer was negotiating the return of striker Tom Pope to Vale Park. The 32-year-old striker had been a key part of The Valiant’s promotion campaign in 2013, where he scored 33 goals and was named as the League Two Player of the Year, and his departure in the summer of 2015 arguably marked the beginning of the club’s gradual decline.

Pope’s homecoming failed to spark an immediate revival in Port Vale’s fortunes. Under Brown, the team looked disjointed, defensively fragile and impotent in front of goal, to such an extent that the striker scored just one goal between the start of the season and the late-September. However, the arrival of Neil Aspin has galvanised the club and Pope has quickly rediscovered his prolific instinct in front of goal following the managerial change.

He has scored nine goals in thirteen appearances for the Valiants since Aspin’s appointment and appears to be full of confidence, energy and enthusiasm. In League Two, Pope possesses all of the attributes to be one of the most dangerous strikers in the division and his return to goal scoring form will bode well for the club’s immediate future. Goals are the most valuable commodity in football, something that the 32-year-old will provide Port Vale as long as he receives the right kind of service.

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