The last of the three rounds of the group stage of the 2016–17 EFL Trophy (known as the Checkatrade Trophy for sponsorship reasons) took place this week with mixed results.
The Football League Trophy competition has taken a controversial edge this season. Having previously been restricted to clubs in the bottom two divisions of the Football League, with the aim of progressing younger talent, development squads from 16 Premier League and League Championship clubs have been allowed to enter this term’s line-up.
Amid the often heated deliberations, the record books have also had to be amended. Notably, the Chelsea versus Oxford United game at Stamford Bridge created a new record of 34 spot-kicks for the longest-ever penalty shoot-out in a senior English competition. Chelsea prevailed by a 13-12 margin.
The previous record of 32 had occurred on two occasions; Worcester City versus Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup on 17 December 2014 and Derby County versus Carlisle United in the EFL Cup on 23 August 2016. Both games finished with a higher score of 14-13.
Of course, much has been made of the dreadful attendances with the majority of games failing to attract four-figure gates. As Everton have yet to announce their attendance, the lowest reported was at West Bromwich Albion. Just 284 were in attendance at the 26,850 capacity Hawthorns with, according to the Baggies official twitter feed, “approximately” nine visitors from Gillingham. The absent Albion supporters missed out on the introduction of 15 year-old substitute Jamie Soule.
Another 15 year-old, Dwight Pascal, was in Barnet’s starting line-up against Peterborough United, becoming the Bees’ youngest-ever player. The previous record was held by Matt Stevens who was in the Posh team at The Hive on Tuesday. He was 16 years and 204 days when he played against Alfreton Town on 6 September 2014.
The most heart-warming story though concerned someone much younger. Five-year-old Joshua McCormack was named among the Rochdale substitutes for their game at Hartlepool United. The brave little Dale fan has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Although too ill to attend the game, his shirt was hung in the dressing room prior to kick-off and was placed over a seat on the subs bench. Joshua was allocated the number 55 shirt and his name was listed on the official team sheet.
Goals from Reuben Noble-Lazarus and Matty Gillam secured a 2-1 win for Rochdale and the players rushed to the dug-out to lift up Joshua’s shirt during the celebrations.
Manager Keith Hill explained his decision to make McCormack the Lancashire club’s youngest ever signing for one special night:
“No child should have to go through what Joshua is going through and we, as a club and a group of players, will continue to do whatever we can to support him and his family.”