Why the Checkatrade Trophy is a positive for Sunderland AFC this season
The Checkatrade Trophy has come in for a fair amount of criticism since launching last week.
With fan boycotts resulting in poor attendances and concerns over Premier League sides being allowed to enter Under-23 sides in the competition for the first time, it has been a baptism of fire for the revamped Football League Trophy.
Six of the 16 top flight clubs invited rejected the offer but Sunderland are taking part and they are in Northern Group F with Hartlepool United, Rochdale and Notts County.
Tonight sees Sunderland make their debut in the competition away at Rochdale.
For first team coach Robbie Stockdale, the Checkatrade Trophy brings only positives when it comes to the development of younger players and getting returning first team players vital minutes.
“I think from our point of view, it can only be a positive,” said Stockdale.
“What is missing from the games programme for our older aged academy players is that competitive game - a game that actually means something.
“To be playing these games against senior opposition, good level opposition, is a fantastic challenge for the younger players.
“The added extra is the senior players dropping down, it pushes them as well.
“If a senior player drops down to a normal development squad game they might be playing 18-year-olds, so this ticks the boxes for us.
“I understand the issues other clubs might have with it and respect them but unless we try something to replicate that competitive spirit in the games programme then you are not really trying anything.
“Lets see how it goes, we are certainly taking it very seriously. We are preparing like any first team game.
“Is it the answer? I’m not sure but it is well worth trying. I have seen the previous games and there have been mixed results. That competitive edge is there.
“We are expecting a very difficult game.
“I know Rochdale are not in a great run of form, they may look at this game to get some momentum going into the league.”
First team coach Stockdale is expecting a competitive game at the Crown Oil Arena.
The 36-year-old, who played for Middlesbrough, Rotherham United, Hull City, Tranmere Rovers and Grimsby Town during his playing days, added: “I finished my career in the lower leagues, so if I was one of those senior players in the Rochdale side thinking these young upstarts are going to come and try and turn us over, I know the first thing I might be doing to them!
“It will be a learning curve on that side, they will be more streetwise than our boys.
“Physically they should be stronger. It is a test on all sorts of levels. It is really interesting to see how our younger players cope with that.”
Former Under-21 manager Stockdale has seen first hand the development of the likes of Jordan Pickford, Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch, who won’t be involved tonight.
When asked if he was proud to see their progression, he said: “When I was Under-21 manager you are pushing them because you think they are good enough.
“There is satisfaction that when they get the chance that they can handle it, Jordan, Lynden, Duncan have shown they can all handle it.
“Proud is probably not the right word but there is a satisfaction that what you are preaching all the way through comes off.
“The gaffer is really involved with the young players.
“The one thing you know you will get is effort but they also play without a sense of nervousness - ‘I’m going to get on the ball.’
“Lynden was the prime example, when he moved into the middle against Shrewsbury and Middlesbrough.
“You think is he going to go into his shell? Actually, he went the other way, which was great to see.”
Tonight, Sunderland will have to field six players who are 21 or under in their starting XI against Rochdale with first-teamers eligible for the remaining positions.
The top two from each regional group of the Checkatrade Trophy will qualify for the knock-out rounds, culminating in a showpiece final at Wembley.
“We want to stay in the competition as long as we can and go as far as we can,” added Stockdale.
“It is about development and also about winning, hopefully win the game and play well.”
In the group stages teams get three points for a win and a point for a draw. If the game ends all square there will be a penalty shoot-out and the winner of that gets an extra bonus point.
* Sunderland fans can pay on the turnstiles at the Crown Oil Arena tonight.
Tickets in the Wilbutts Lane Stand are priced at £5 adults and £1 under-16s.