The countdown to the Checkatrade Trophy Final has officially begun, with Lincoln City the first team to confirm their place at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 8th April.
The Imps defeated Chelsea U21, the last remaining invited Under-21 side left in the competition, by the narrowest of margins, winning a penalty shootout in a gripping encounter at Sincil Bank last night.
With thousands of supporters in the stadium and many more watching live on Sky Sports, EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey was one of the viewers intrigued by the potential outcome in the EFL versus U21 encounter.
“I was one of the many nervous spectators, as were the majority of the Lincoln supporters, hoping they were going to get to Wembley for the first time in 133 years,” explained Harvey.
“Last night’s semi-final was a great advert for the competition. It was an incredible atmosphere and I’m sure it’s a night that the club’s supporters will remember for a long time.
“The clubs that will be going to the final this year are going on merit and the fans are going to have a big day out. The final of a knockout competition at Wembley; the feeling can’t be repeated.”
Chelsea’s young stars initially struggled to handle Lincoln City in a physical encounter but grew into the game, and their resilience illustrated one of the principal aims of the competition.
Harvey continued: “The academy clubs can’t get enough of that type of football, it is a way to educate young players that cannot be replicated in playing youth football.
“If an Under-21 side would have been in the final this year it would have been different, it would have been a challenge and it would probably overshadow some of the work that has gone on in this competition about creating the opportunity for younger players.
“However, there is now a spectacle of two EFL clubs at Wembley for the final which maintains a tradition that has always been there in this competition.”
Facing Lincoln in the Wembley showpiece will be either Yeovil Town, who defeated League One side Fleetwood Town in an entertaining contest after coming from behind, or Shrewsbury Town – with the tie set to be played Tuesday 27th February.
Harvey added: “I’ve heard it being called embarrassing [if Chelsea were to advance to the final] but it can’t be, as we all entered and put the competition together on the basis that the two teams who won the semi-finals and progressed in the competition were going to play in the final.
“Those Chelsea players may well look back at that game in years to come and think that was what helped them on their way to success.”