Liam Hoden: Why Rovers are right to back the Checkatrade Trophy

Alfie Beestin pictured in action against Port Vale in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Alfie Beestin pictured in action against Port Vale in the Checkatrade Trophy.

It was a competition previously greeted with irritated indifference before changes saw it engulfed in a wave of vitriol.

This season’s Checkatrade Trophy was sneered at before it even began, greeted with calls for a fan boycott and widely ridiculed - chiefly due to the presence of U23 teams from Premier League and Championship clubs.

Despite the ire with which it was received, the Checkatrade Trophy will return, with the same format, for the next two seasons.

Two thirds of the 48 clubs from League One and Two voted in favour of retaining the competition in its current incarnation. Two thirds.

Rovers boss Darren Ferguson has found himself positioned as chief cheerleader for the competition - his quotes used to show its validity.

And he is right to throw his weight behind the Checkatrade Trophy.

Rather than bitch and moan about having to deal with a fourth competition, Ferguson embraced it and made it work for him.

Their participation may have ended in the second round, but Rovers’ experience of the competition was incredibly positive.

From the very first game, away at Mansfield, it was clear it could be a beneficial extracurricular activity during a campaign where promotion was the full focus.

Starting that game were Liam Mandeville, Alfie Beestin and Reece Fielding. Beestin scored a cracker in a 2-0 win. All three played well, picking up valuable minutes in their development as young players.

And that continued into the second game of the group stage.

It may have appeared to be a bloating of the competition when a group stage was added, but it actually helped the cause if you were to treat the competition as Rovers did.

Having a guaranteed three match run allowed Ferguson the opportunity to give young players game time over several matches, rather than the odd one or two in a straight knockout format.

And Ferguson took that opportunity with both hands, cunningly working within the selection criteria to do so.

Mandeville went on to score ten goals for Rovers over the season and there is little doubt his appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy laid the groundwork for an excellent campaign.

It would have been easy for clubs to elect for a return to a straight knockout format, but that is arguably more disruptive than having a three-game run for which to plan.

As for the presence of U23 teams, it cannot be said that they were disruptive.

Bringing U23 teams into the Checkatrade Trophy keeps the B-team argument at arm’s length. And given the lack of success of these teams this season, the desire for a B-team league within the EFL will have diminished.

Coming up against Derby put Rovers’ young players up against a quality side. Derby’s front line was a collection of multi-million pound forwards. They should have had more than enough firepower to deal with Rovers that evening.

But they didn’t, and Rovers moved forward in the war, with young players picking up valuable minutes against quality senior opposition.

So when it comes to the Checkatrade Trophy, it is so far, so good from a Rovers perspective.

Long may it continue.