If it was much-maligned before, the only way to describe the EFL’s lower league cup competition this season is loathed.
Plenty of managers have lined up to sneer at the Checkatrade Trophy, with a variety of reasons in the arsenal.
Group stages, U23 teams from Category One Academies and restrictive selection rules have all been heavily criticised with the likes of Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder leading the backlash.
One of the few men to break from the norm and defend the Checkatrade Trophy has been Doncaster Rovers boss Darren Ferguson who tonight will lead his side into the round of 32 tie with Blackpool at the Keepmoat.
Though promotion back to League One is Rovers’ priority, Ferguson sees plenty of value in the competition and remains determined to go far. And he feels many of his counterparts have failed to recognise the merits and use the controversial quirks as excuses for failing to take it seriously.
“It’s easy to use the tournament as an excuse, if I’m going to be honest,” Ferguson said.
“The rules are the same for everyone so just get on with it. That’s how I’ve treated it. It’s been a challenge. It’s meant I’ve got some of my younger players in the team.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve enjoyed it.
“The number one aim is promotion but this one is not far behind.
“It’s a good tournament and it really does catch the imagination if you go that bit further. All of a sudden people start thinking about Wembley. We’re not at that stage yet though.
“The important thing is to get through the early stages. I want to go as far as we can.”
Ferguson’s positivity regarding a competition he has won previously as both a player and manager has been facilitated by the positive experience Rovers have enjoyed within it this season.
Strong performances have been delivered by a team with a freshness about it. Whether it has been players returning from injury or Academy gradutates being handed the opportunity for game time, the Checkatrade Trophy has been pretty enjoyable.
It is hard to imagine Liam Mandeville would be enjoying his current blistering run of form without the experience and confidence boost which the competition has allowed. Beyond the chance to reach Wembley and pick up a piece of silverware, there is another reason Ferguson is keen to maintain his side’s good run in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Rovers remain unbeaten at the Keepmoat so far this season and Ferguson is desperate for the run to continue beyond tonight.
“It’s another game of football and my mentality is we want to win every one,” he said.
“We’ve got two targets. The incentive is to go all the way if we can and the other is to keep the home record intact. We’re proud of the fact we haven’t been beaten at home and we want to keep that run going as long as we can.
“It’s an important game. The players are fully aware of it and I’m expecting a good performance.”