LOMAS ON STAGS: New-look EFL Trophy set to be a damp squib?

Alfreton Town v Mansfield Town.
Early first half goalmouth action at Alfreton on Saturday.

Alfreton Town v Mansfield Town. Early first half goalmouth action at Alfreton on Saturday.

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The draw for the first round group stage of the controversial new-look EFL Trophy was made today and I would be surprised if any Stags fan was thrilled by it.

A cup trip to Derby’s impressive iPro Stadium would normally be something to look forward to.

But the prospect of playing their Academy side in a near-empty stadium where you are able to hear everything the players shout will have most fans checking what might be on the TV that night.

Doncaster and Port Vale complete the group opposition and at least offer acceptable opposition.

No matter how the League dress it up, their experiment of bringing in the big club Academies is doomed to fail.

I have never seen such an angry reaction from fans all over the country and the talk of boycotts everywhere looks set to come to fruition.

Many loyal Stags fans who hate missing games will think twice before they pay out hard-earned money to see their side take on an Academy team for a match that somehow doesn’t seem a real one.

It is such a daft idea that even the big guns like Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Newcastle rejected the idea of playing in it, further devaluing the idea.

Many fans fear this is the first step to try to get people to accept Premier League reserve/Academy sides into the Football League which would be one of the worst ideas in footballing history.

The League have moved quickly to deny that. But the Premier League, goaded on by the big TV money, are never to be trusted and the idea the League would degrade itself to nurture the young English talent the big clubs should be playing in the Premier League would be completely unpalatable to most.

For now Stags need to firm up dates for the three games, grit their teeth and try to get out of the group stages.

Usually this competition gets more interest the further a side goes towards a big day out at Wembley.

But, with the Academy sides also in the mix to progress, the lack of excitement caused by playing them will continue throughout.

Even getting to the final - as welcome as the £100,000 winning fee would be to any club – could feel flat if you end having to play a bunch of kids from Blackburn or Reading Academies on the big day.

I may stand corrected, but I think fans will vote with their feet and this will be looked on as a one-season blip in a competition close to Mansfield hearts.

With now just 10 days left to the big kick-off at Newport, Mansfield continue to shape up well in their pre-season friendlies.

A very strong-looking Stags side stood up well to a physical examination in a 1-1 draw at Alfreton Town last Saturday.

Then those players were allowed to rest their bruises as a less experienced side, including a rookie back four, were given a very strong test by a talented Mickleover Sports side, losing 1-0 at the Don Amott Arena on Tuesday.

Boss Adam Murray now has just two more friendlies to top up players’ fitness and select his starting XI for Newport.

Saturday’s trip to Worksop Town was due to be the last one, but Murray has added a trip to Hednesford on Monday night at the last minute to give him extra insurance on match sharpness.

I believe he will play as close to his starting line-up as possible at Worksop and then give other squad players an outing at Hednesford.

It will be interesting to see if injured pair Mal Benning and Jack Thomas play any part in either game.

The pair have been sidelined with pre-season knocks. Both are said to be precautionary and not serious. But, to have a chance of starting at Newport, I would expect them to play somewhere along the line this weekend.

With no loan windows this coming season, Stags may have to rely on their own youngsters at times of injury/suspension crisis.

So it was interesting to see how the young back four of Teddy Bloor, Corbin Shires, Keiran Harrison and Louis Danquah coped at Mickleover on Tuesday.

The quartet certainly gave their all, but it was tough going against a lively, passing Sports side and highlighted the massive gap between youth football and men’s football.

That is where the new U21s side playing reserve league football will come in this season and hone these inexperienced kids into shape for a first team call as they are not ready yet on Tuesday’s showing.