Wembley Double Header For EFL Trophy Finals
The four teams taking part in the semi-finals of the EFL Trophy have been decided. All of the quarter final ties took place on Tuesday February 2nd. As usual the successful teams are a mixed bag with three from League One and Tranmere Rovers representing League Two. 2020-21 is the first year of a three year sponsorship deal with pizza firm Papa John’s which follows similar deals with Johnstone’s Paint, Checkatrade and Leasing.com in recent seasons. Papa John’s will also be the official pizza of the EFL. Papa John’s Marketing Director Giles Codd memorably announced the tie up with the EFL Trophy.
The least prestigious of the three domestic cup competitions, the EFL Trophy has endured several formats since inception in 1983. A trip to the hallowed turf of Wembley awaits the finalists in March. Fans are split on the usefulness of the competition, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and possible fixture pressures should it be played? An added complication has been the postponed 2019-20 final between Portsmouth and Salford City. Originally scheduled for April 5th 2020 the match was postponed to allow a chance for supporters to attend.
History of the EFL Trophy
The list of past winners is varied with Bristol City’s three wins the most in the history of the competition. Current Premier League teams Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton have both won the trophy, with the Saints victory coming as recently as 2010. Portsmouth are the current EFL Trophy holders after a 5-4 win on penalties over Sunderland in 2019. A crowd of 85,021 watched the game, a record for the competition.
The Football League has repeatedly used the competition as an experiment to try out new concepts. From the outset the league’s new cup for the third and fourth tiers wasn’t a straight knockout with six teams who had the narrowest defeats reprieved in early rounds. A group format was used for a few years and a limited number of Conference teams played in the cup each year between 2000 and 2006.
Introduction of academy teams
After ten years of a straight knockout completion in 2016 academy teams were introduced to the competition. Fans of lower league teams saw it as a way of legitimising big clubs B teams joining the Football League. Grimsby supporter Rich Mills was quoted in the Guardian saying what most fans felt….
“There is a place for B teams but not in the league pyramid. I know this is just the Trophy, and it’s just a trial, but we also know about the proposals to add another tier to the league and to restructure it, including the likely addition of some B teams. As soon as that happens then promotion/relegation looks suspect, and we’re a step closer to a Spanish or US model where the lower leagues don’t have a route up.”
Since 2016 the teams entering the EFL Trophy have consisted of the 48 clubs in leagues One and Two plus sixteen Category One academies from the Premier League or Championship. The 64 participants are split into 16 groups of 4 teams and one academy team is drawn in each group. Each team plays the others in the group once with the top two in each mini league progressing to the knockout stages. From the last 32 onwards the EFL Trophy is played as a traditional knockout competition. The academy experiment has continued but only League One and Two clubs have reached the final so far.
EFL Trophy Semi-Finalists 2020-21
— Papa John's Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 2, 2021
League One high flyers Lincoln City progressed to the semi final stage by beating Hull City 4-3 in an exciting penalty shootout in the Quarter Final. Lincoln goalkeeper Alex Palmer made three decisive saves in the shootout after the game finished at 1-1 after 90 minutes. Harry Anderson had given Lincoln the lead before Hull midfielder Greg Docherty equalised when he scored a magnificent goal after a mazy run.
At the first round stage the Imps came second to Manchester City u21’s in a group which also included Mansfield Town and Scunthorpe United. In the second round they thrashed Shrewsbury Town 4-1. They bettered this in the third round beating Accrington Stanley 4-0 to reach the quarter finals. Lincoln previously won the EFL Trophy in 2018 and have been in good form recently under manager Michael Appleton.
Oxford United continued their sparkling form in 2021 by winning their ninth match in a row. A 3-1 win saw the club break their record for consecutive victories. Managerless Wimbledon became the unfortunate victims and slipped to their fifth defeat in six matches. After nineteen minutes the cup tie was virtually over with Oxford leading 2-0, new striker Sam Winnall grabbing both, his first goals for the club. Mide Shodipo hammered home a third for the U’s in the second half with a shot from outside the box before Ethan Chislett scored a consolation for Wimbledon.
In the group stage Oxford finished at the top of their group finishing unbeaten above Bristol Rovers, Walsall and Chelsea u21’s. In the second round they overcame Forest Green Rovers on penalties and defeated League Two leaders Cambridge United 1-0 in round three.
Moments You Missed 🎥 | Take a look behind the scenes on an historic evening as #OUFC make it nine wins in a row 🙌
— Oxford United FC (@OUFCOfficial) February 3, 2021
A comfortable 3-0 win away to Milton Keynes Dons saw Sunderland through to the semi-finals. An early own goal from the experienced Dean Lewington separated the teams at halftime. Sunderland scored again twice after the break through Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady to close out the game.
In the group stage Sunderland finished second in their group behind Fleetwood Town. The other teams in the group were Carlisle United and Aston Villa u21’s. An away trip to Boundary Park was successfully navigated in round two, Sunderland leaving Oldham with a 2-1 win. Sunderland faced Port Vale at home in round three and won 2-0. It is the second time in three years the club have reached the semi-final stage of the competition.
Tranmere are the only League Two club remaining in the competition. They won the trophy in 1990. The Birkenhead club have been in good form in 2021 and have not lost since a Boxing Day reverse at home to Bradford City. Quarter-final opponents Peterborough United started the fixture 5th in League one while Rovers were 5th in League Two. After a lively start Danny Lloyd, a former Peterborough player, curled an excellent free kick into the corner of the net. Paul Lewis doubled the lead with a header on 82 minutes before Jonson Clarke-Harris pulled one back with a penalty in the 90th minute. Tranmere held on and are now one game away from Wembley.
In the First Round Tranmere finished in second place in their group. Port Vale topped the group by two points. Wigan Athletic and Liverpool u21’s completed the group. Manchester City u21’s visited Prenton Park in round two with Tranmere coming out on top 2-1. At the third round stage Leicester City u21’s found Tranmere in good scoring form with Rovers completing a 4-2 win.
— Papa John's Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 3, 2021
Semi Final Schedule
The first semi-final will be Oxford United v Tranmere Rovers on Tuesday February 16th. The following day Sunderland will play Lincoln City in the second semi final. Both matches will be televised live on Sky Sports and kick off is 6pm. As in previous rounds the ties will be ninety minutes followed by a penalty shootout to decide the outcome if scores are level.
Salford City and Portsmouth will make their long awaited trip to the capitol on March 13th. Salford recently played at Wembley before achieving promotion through the playoffs and come up against 2019 EFL Trophy winners Portsmouth. Pompey have plenty of big match experience in their history including winning the 1939 and 2008 FA Cup Finals. Portsmouth are in the League One playoff places and Salford 9th in League Two at the time of writing.
To reach the final Salford topped their group, defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers u21’s, Port Vale and Accrington Stanley on the way to the semi-finals. They sent the team to Wembley by winning on penalties against Newport County in the semi-finals. Portsmouth also topped their group before beating Northampton Town, Walsall and Scunthorpe United. In their semi-final the club defeated Exeter City 3-2 to stay in the competition.
Fans missing for rearranged final
60,000 tickets sold to supporters in anticipation of an April 2020 final had to be reimbursed when it became clear no fans would be admitted to the rearranged match. Both clubs have made changes to their squads since qualifying for the final. Despite the Ammies playing their football a division below Portsmouth a cup tie is a great leveller. The wait will be worth it for one of the teams but there will be a disappointment continuing Covid-19 regulations mean supporters of both teams will miss out on being at the game.
A “Wembley Weekender” was announced by the EFL days after the quarter finals which will see both finals played over the weekend of the 13th and 14th of March. Salford City and Portsmouth will complete the 2020 EFL Trophy on Saturday 13th March and the 2021 final will take place on Sunday 14th March. Both games kick off at 3pm and there will be no fans in attendance.
The EFL has today confirmed that a unique action-packed ‘Wembley Weekender’ of football will take place in March for the 2020 and 2021 Papa John’s Trophy Finals.#EFL | #PapaJohnsTrophyhttps://t.co/p9NqOXJj3l
— Papa John's Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 4, 2021
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