Just when you get back into the swing of the domestic season another international break halts the momentum. England v Scotland is a mouth-watering game to look forward to on Friday night, but of course it means no Premier League, no La Liga, and no midweek Champions League football.
While we wait for the World Cup qualifiers to commence, the only midweek offering of note in England is the EFL, or Checkatrade Trophy. However, it’s not all doom and gloom because the competition has been revamped this season, and the bookies are yet to get a handle on the respective abilities of football league clubs and Under-23 academy sides.
In a controversial move, several academy teams were invited to enter the Checkatrade Trophy to compete with clubs from Leagues One and Two. It was a unpopular move among lower league clubs for which this represents a lucrative money-spinner, but a welcome change for ‘elite’ clubs whose youngsters are able to gain competitive experience. Teams have been divided into groups of four consisting of one invited team and at least one club from each of Leagues One and Two. The group stage sees the teams play each other once, with the top two qualifying for the knockout stage. Another change to ‘reignite’ the competition is the new rules over drawn games and penalty shootouts. Games that finish all square go directly to spot kicks, the winner of which is awarded a bonus point. However, for reasons which will be explained, the new format may have inadvertently dented the competitiveness of the group stages.
Regardless, for those punters who don’t want to keep the powder dry for internationals, there are several fixtures from which to choose bets, and we’ve highlighted three that have a good chance of landing.
Norwich U23 v MK Dons
Our first vote goes to Norwich U23’s who are rated a +163 with Marathonbet to beat MK Dons on Tuesday night.
The young Canaries have taken this competition by storm, out-performing all of the other academy sides and really catching the eye. They opened their account with a massive 6-1 victory at local rivals Peterborough, and followed it up with a 5-0 away demolition of Barnet. The rules of the competition this season state that academy sides will play one game in their home stadium, so the young guns have the chance to play at Carrow Road to take on League One’s MK Dons.
The extra bonus point for a penalty shootout win has favoured MK Dons, after they drew with Barnet but came out on top from 12 yards. The Dons went on to beat Peterborough, and sit on five points in the group. Peterborough are bottom with zero points, while Barnets single point from that draw with MK Dons means that with one game to go they can’t catch either of the top two.
With Norwich and the Dons already assured of qualification this match is something of a ‘dead rubber’, particularly as far as the visitors are concerned. The team from Milton Keynes are hovering above the League One trapdoor on goal difference only, and league survival will surely take precedence over this competition. For the Norwich young players it’s a chance to play in their home stadium and they will be far more motivated to put on a performance. Bearing in mind previous results and the circumstances of this match, a price of +163 is well worth taking.
Northampton v West Ham U23
Our other bet for Tuesday night is over 2.5 goals at -120 with SkyBet when Northampton host the young Hammers.
These two sides also know their fate regardless of the result – they are both already eliminated after losing two matches to Coventry and Wycombe. Again, this will be of little importance to promotion chasing League One side Northampton, but if their recent record is anything to go by there should be goals.
The Cobblers thumped Harrow 6-0 in the FA Cup over the weekend, and that was the 11th game in 12 which has gone over the 2.5 goal mark. Even the one that didn’t featured two goals – a 1-1 draw with league leaders Scunthorpe.
Three of West Ham U23’s last five games have gone over the goal line, and both games in this competition have too. The Hammers have lost 3-0 to Wycombe and 4-2 to Coventry, and now face the highest-ranked side in their group.
Southampton U23 v Crawley
We’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the last bet, which is on Southampton’s talented youngsters at -167 with BoyleSports when they host Crawley.
Southampton are well-known for their incredible youth academy which has produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Calum Chambers in recent season. Judging by their results in this competition it would seem that they have another batch of talented youngsters coming through. After performing admirably to claim a point from Charlton, they then went away again to Colchester and returned with three points after a 2-1 victory.
They play a Crawley side which has already qualified with two wins, so probably lacks the motivation for this game. The club is just two points outside the League Two play off zone, and a potential promotion challenge is far more valuable than this fixture. Players are likely to be rested for Crawley, and Southampton’s kids like those of Norwich will relish playing in their home stadium. The Saints need to win to ensure they also qualify for the next stage, so all the motivation is with Southampton, while Crawley would probably be happy to come through with a bit of extra fitness and no injuries.
Norwich U23 to beat MK Dons
Tuesday 8th November, 19:45 GMT
Northampton v West Ham U23 – Over 2.5 goals
Tuesday 8th November, 19:45 GMT
Southampton U23 to beat Crawley
Wednesday 9th November, 19:45 GMT