Everton coach David Unsworth is relishing the challenge of facing Sky Bet League One table-toppers Bolton Wanderers in the Checkatrade Trophy.The young Blues are set to visit the Macron Stadium for what will be their first game in the revamped tournament, but could be without as many as 16 of his players due to international call-ups and injury.
For this season, 16 Premier League and Sky Bet Championship category one academy teams have been permitted to enter sides to join the 48 Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two clubs in the competition.
Everton have been drawn in Northern Group A alongside Bolton, Blackpool and Cheltenham Town, but will have to contest their opener without a number of the players who have contributed to their 100 per cent start in the Premier League Two.
“We’ve got 10 of the lads away on international duty and six others looking as though they’ll miss out through injury,” Unsworth explained.
“We’re really disappointed that so many of our eligible players will miss the opportunity to play in the game because it’s a competition that we’re all really excited about entering this season. It’s not ideal and we did speak to the EFL to explain the situation and explore the possibility of rescheduling the fixture. That wasn’t possible and we understand the League’s position.
“Of course, it’s testament to the quality in our squad that so many of the lads have been taken away from us to represent their countries and that in itself is a fantastic opportunity for them. It means we’ll be fielding something more like an Under-19 side on the night but it will certainly be the very strongest team we can put out and a chance for those boys to show us what they can do.
“Bolton have started the season in brilliant form and are unbeaten in League One, so we know the challenge we face. But we’re also delighted to have been given the opportunity to play in this competition and believe the experience the lads will get from it will benefit them in the long run.”
Constructive discussions had taken place between the Club and the EFL to discuss the various limited options available, which included the potential to retain the called-up players until after the game. However, this has not been permitted and the fixture will be played as planned.
Shaun Harvey, EFL CEO said: “Everton have been extremely supportive of the Checkatrade Trophy since their invitation was issued during the close season and they have committed to being as competitive as is possible under the current eligibility rules in order to protect the integrity of the competition and assist in their player development programme.
“They have clearly been faced with a number of selection challenges ahead of tonight’s game and collectively we have done all within our power to try and secure permission for their international players to remain with them.
“Each of the Category 1 clubs invited to participate in the competition understood there was always the potential that international call-ups could have an impact and it is disappointing for Everton that it’s happened ahead of their opening group game. But the dates allocated in the calendar need to be fulfilled as we already have a congested fixture list. It’s why football collectively needs to address this fundamental point and that is what we have started to do in recent months.
“I would like to thank the club for their understanding and commitment to fulfilling the fixture. They have made it clear right from the outset that their under-21 players would gain great benefit from being involved in the Checkatrade Trophy and this was, of course, a key part of our rationale when discussing, and subsequently implementing, the changes over the summer.