By Gerry PrewettThis evening throws up what may be the shape of things to come as a ‘full’ Bristol Rovers team entertain a Reading Under-23 team in the Checkatrade Trophy.
The ‘old’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was ‘in effect’ the FA Cup for the lower two Divisions, it was their own competition with the chance of the ultimate, a trip to a Wembley for the Final.
The early rounds were often poorly attended it was and it was not until the Northern and Southern Finals stages that attendances really picked up.
With a view to ‘spicing up’ the competition the decision was made by the Football League to invite the development teams of Premiership and Championship teams to participate.
That decision has caused consternation amongst the fans of many lower Division teams as they feel that ‘their’ competition is being invaded.
This sense of community is one that was experienced by many Gasheads when Rovers spent the 2014-15 season in the Conference. Whilst the standard of football and the grounds were not always the best, the teams were supported by ‘real’ football fans, not Roy Keane’s infamous ‘Prawn Sandwich Brigade’.
The rules of the competition state that Rovers are obliged to play their 'full available strength' side and that Championship Reading must include in their starting line-up at least six players who were aged 23 or under on June 30th this year.
Who are Rovers likely to be facing in tonight’s game? Reading’s Under-23 team beat Manchester City, 3-2 on Friday night at the Madejski Stadium.
Half of the 14 players used were still in their teenage years, including 17-year-old left-back Tom McIntyre who is still in the Academy, as well as first-year pros Luke Southwood, Gabriel Osho and Josh Barrett who formed the spine of the team.
Goals by Sandro Wieser, Tariqe Fosu and McIntyre had Reading 3-0 ahead at half-time.
Under 23’s Boss Martin Kuhl said, “I thought we played very well in the first half, we thoroughly deserved the three goals, and we knew that they would come at us in the second half and make things difficult. They have some good players and they scored a couple of goals which meant we had to hang on a bit at the end, but the lads dug in.”
“We said to them at half-time that the first half had been very good but that the second half would be different as we knew they would come at us. We are playing in a certain way to add a bit more belief, a bit more angles and quality. We had spells in the second half when we had possession, but they got on top. But it’s about learning different ways and trusting each other to play.”
“It was a first game for people like Jake Sheppard and they were probably feeling in their legs a bit towards the end. But it was a hard-fought win after a very good first half. We put out a different team to the one that played against Tottenham, which was probably a stronger squad, but I thought the young lads did really well.”
Speaking ahead of tonight’s game Kuhl said, “We’ve got some internationals away and a lot of the young lads are away as well, which of course is great for the club. But the opportunity is good for us.
“The Premier League International Cup pits us against adult reserve teams from some strong European teams, and EFL Trophy gives our boys a chance to visit Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers, for us it’s fantastic.”