Clubs rally against Checkatrade format ahead of final

As Oxford United and Coventry City prepare to contest the 2017 EFL Trophy final at Wembley on Sunday, the first after the competition’s major restructure, the question still resonates: has the EFL’s decision to include several top-flight clubs paid off or has the competition’s integrity been tarnished?

Once respected by football fans across the country, the cup, formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, has been met with fierce criticism this season. It was announced that the competition for football clubs from Leagues One and Two were to gain a new format, including 16 Premier League and Championship Under-23 teams for the first time.

Dwindling attendance figures have left stadiums almost empty, dipping regularly below four figures, reflecting the discontent felt by fans at the changes to ‘their’ competition. “The competition’s devalued,” said Moz Baker, a member of the Sky Blues Trust, a Coventry City supporters club. “I hope they [the EFL] review that in the summer and revert back to the way it was before.”

“I don’t think anybody’s got anything out of it. The under-23 teams haven’t done particularly well, they’ve struggled against the League Two sides and the crowds have been poor. People haven’t turned up for it.”

The opening set of fixtures saw record low attendances with #BTeamBoycott trending on Twitter, in attempts to persuade fans to stay away.

Despite initial fears that they would dominate the competition, academy sides failed to make a mark in the knockout stages with Swansea City Academy, the last remaining Category One side, unable to make it pass the quarter-finals.

Instead, the Wembley final will see Oxford Utd and Coventry City, two League One sides, tussle for the trophy. The two teams have contrasting league form, with Oxford, promoted from League Two last season, sitting in 10th with an outside chance of reaching the play-offs.

Their opponents could not be any more contrasting, languishing bottom of the table, 11 points from safety. With relegation an inevitability, the cup has been a welcome distraction for supporters.

“It’s a chance for Coventry City fans, in a period of real gloom and doom to actually have something positive. When you get to Wembley and it’s been 30 years since you got there, it’s a chance to win some silverware,” Mr Baker continued.

The 1987 FA Cup final was Coventry’s only other appearance at the national stadium, and lifting the famous trophy, is there only major tournament victory to date. Oxford are no strangers to the EFL Trophy final however, finishing runners-up to Barnsley last season.

The match will be shown live on Sky Sports 3 this Sunday (12th April) with coverage starting at 2pm.

Written by Matt Jones

Photo by Officially Mr X at English Wikipedia, reproduced under Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

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