If you can put aside for one moment the raging debate about the EFL Trophy’s merit, expect to see two sides taking the competition very seriously tonight at Luton.
Chesterfield’s powers that be have already expressed to caretaker boss Ritchie Humphreys that they want to win, they value the prize money and the chance to progress.
And hosts Luton Town, albeit having been fined £15,000 for fielding ‘weakened’ teams in earlier stages, have enjoyed real success thus far in the competition and won’t want to bow out now.
Bedfordshire on Sunday journalist James Cunliffe says their fringe players have really stepped up in the trophy this season.
“Luton have been outstanding in the EFL Trophy, they’ve dispensed with higher division opposition in Gillingham, West Bromwich Albion and Swindon so spirits are high,” he said.
“Players that haven’t had much first-team action have really risen to the challenge.
“In the last game, Isaac Vassell and Josh McQuoid played up front and terrorised Swindon’s defence with pace and power, sharing the goals between them, while Jake Gray has been impressive throughout the competition, pulling the strings with an all-action direct-running approach and a bit of invention from midfield.”
Controversy has followed the EFL Trophy since its format change and the invitation to Premier League clubs to field their Under 23s.
Cunliffe is scathing on the changes to the competition but insists Luton value their hard earned place in the third round.
“The EFL have fined them £15,000 already for fielding a whole host of academy players and breaking rules on fielding supposedly weakened teams,” he said.
“Clearly, that’s a nonsense as they’ve got this far but, then again, there has been some bewildering levels of buffoonery from the people in charge.
“Quite what they were doing fluttering their eyelids at Premier League clubs – that are none of their concern – and promising to boost their kids’ first-team football CVs, is anyone’s guess.
“But to then punish their own members for wanting a level playing field for their kids is just bonkers.
“Despite this Luton are taking it seriously.
“There’s one way you can gauge this and that’s to look at the results.
“Yes, Nathan Jones has used the competition to give game time to some of his first-team fringe players but the true success is how he’s provided a real pathway into first-team football for many of last season’s impressive Luton youth side – that won a league and cup double as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
“Regardless of whether Town beat Chesterfield, the Hatters should be lauded for their approach to youth development, which they’ve nurtured in spite of the Football League, who cut their funding altogether after they were dumped into the non-league because of a draconian 30-point penalty.”
Luton have been using a new 3-1-4-2 formation of late, in the league at least, and may well showcase it in tonight’s tie.
But Cunliffe thinks it unlikely that a ‘full strength’ Hatters side will welcome the Spireites to Kenilworth Road.
“There are first-team regulars that haven’t featured at all in the competition, so don’t expect to see the likes of top scorer Danny Hylton, goalkeeper Christian Walton, Jack Marriott, Johnny Mullins, captain Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan, Jordan Cook, Glen Rea, while Cameron McGeehan has sadly just broken his leg but, as one of Luton’s star men, wouldn’t have featured regardless.
“Craig King, Jack Senior, Frankie Musonda, Akin Famewo, Tyreeq Bakinson, Jake Gray, Josh McQuoid and Zane Banton should all feature, but there have been a few injuries of late so what senior players feature in the Trophy will depend on Saturday’s line-up for the FA Cup third round at Accrington.”
Chesterfield will be without the suspended Tom Anderson and Dion Donohue.
The two clubs last meet in 2009 in League Two when they played out a 0-0 draw at Kenilworth Road.
Luton have the best defensive record in their division this season but have the fourth worst disciplinary record in League Two, having earned 56 yellows and four red cards.