The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy gets underway tonight with 26 sides set to do battle in the first round of the competition.
A Yorkshire derby between Bradford and Sheffield Wednesday looks to be the pick of the fixtures as Phil Parkinson embarks on his first 90 minutes in charge at Valley Parade.
Holders Carlisle United will have to wait until next Tuesday to take their bow in this year’s competition when they travel to Accrington Stanley.
The game at the Crown Ground was initially pencilled in for tonight but the Cumbrians will instead travel to Aldershot in the second round of the Carling Cup, a tie which has been thrown out of kilter by the London riots earlier this month. The Shots’ first round victory at West Ham was one of the fixtures affected and was only completed last Wednesday while the majority of the second round was in full flow.
On the whole the competition has always struggled to capture the interest of the fans under its various guises that include the Freight
The attendances reflect that fact and after disregarding the 40,476 fans present for the final at Wembley the 2010/11 edition attracted an average turnout of 3,477, a figure highly flattered by Sheffield Wednesday who managed three 10,000+ gates during their run to the Northern Area semi-final.
All competing teams have slashed ticket prices in a hope to attract more supporters but in a time where money is at a premium the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy has suffered most.
However this attitude is not always shared by the clubs and managers themselves who see it as the best possible opportunity for silverware and a grand day out at the home of English football.
This view is advocated by Sheffield United defender Neill Collins who told The Sheffield Star the team will be doing all they can to justify themselves as one of the favourites to win the competition: “We’re the biggest name in the JP Trophy and everyone is going to want to beat us, we have to try and make sure they don’t succeed.”
“The final is at Wembley and if we got there then I’m sure we’d take 40,000 fans down with us. Sheffield United should be playing on stages like that. It would be a great day out for both the supporters and us, a really memorable one.”
This outlook is also not lost on Huddersfield manager Lee Clark who told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner he is keen for his side to progress as far as possible and avenge last year’s defeat to Carlisle in the two-legged Area final: “We are going to try and go one better than last time, it’s as simple as that.
“Losing to Carlisle and missing out on Wembley was one of the huge disappointments of last season because you get so few chances to go there in this game.”
However Bournemouth manager Lee Bradbury is more critical of the nature of the competition and instead of looking forward to a big day out finds himself lamenting the rules.
Following an overhaul in 2006 that also prevented Conference sides from competing the Football League enforced a ruling that teams must include at least six first-team players in their starting line-ups in order to uphold the prestige of the cup and would face a fine if they fail to do so.
The Cherries fell afoul of this ruling in a 2009 second round tie with Northampton and received a £1500 fine, suspended for 12 months.
Speaking to the Bournemouth Echo Bradbury believes these rules represent a lack of balance: “It would be better if it were the same rule across the board. We are told we can only make five changes in the JPT but some Premier League clubs seem to make as many as they like in the League Cup.
“But it is not for me to make the rules; I just have to adhere to them.”
League One sides Charlton Athletic and Preston North End have been made joint favourites for the trophy and can both be backed at 8/1 with bookmakers Paddy Power.