Nigel Adkins insists he has maximum respect for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, despite risking the wrath of the Football League by making nine changes to his Sheffield United side for their first-round tie at Hartlepool on Tuesday evening.
United, with only Chris Basham and Jay McEveley surviving from the weekend’s 2-0 win at Swindon Town, progressed on penalties at Victoria Park after drawing 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Competition rules require managers to either select at least six players who started the club’s previous game, or six or more of the club’s leading appearance makers. Clubs found to be in breach of the rules face a maximum fine of around £5,000 - but Adkins insists his team selection was not an indication that he doesn’t value the competition.
Far from it, in fact; in 2009, his Scunthorpe United side lost 3-2 in the JPT final at Wembley, to Luton Town after extra-time. The Iron returned to the capital later that season for the League One play-off final and sealed promotion, beating Milwall 3-2 - with the winning goal coming from current Blade, Martyn Woolford.
“The rules are very complex,” Adkins, speaking after Tuesday’s game, admitted.
“I was speaking to the Football League before the game and with Jose [Baxter] suspended, a few injuries and a host of lads away on international duty, our options were really limited.
“It’s unfortunate but, from my point of view, it’s all about winning a game of football. We have to do what is right for Sheffield United but we’re incredibly respectful of the tournament; the last time I was in it, I took Scunthorpe to the final.
“So I know very well the benefits a good run in this competition can bring.”
Bristol City, too, lifted the JPT on their way to winning the League One title last season and Adkins is hopeful that the competition, which allowed him to give run-outs to the likes of Craig Alcock, Terry Kennedy and Ryan Flynn following injury, has a similar galvanising effect on United.
“To be able to bring back Flynny and Terry, Harrison McGahey and Michael Higdon, and give George Long more game time, is a big positive,” the Blades boss added.
“It’s an excellent opportunity to get them out on the field but, importantly, we won the game so that keeps momentum going. It’s unfortunate our game against Colchester this weekend had to be postponed, but I had to make a decision on Friday.
“We don’t want to be playing catch-up with fixtures but, at the same time, we don’t want to be losing games cheaply, either.”
United quartet Che Adams, David Edgar, Louis Reed and Callum McFadzean are all away on international duty, with Edgar preparing to lead Canada in two World Cup qualifiers against Belize.
“Right now we are just taking it one game at a time starting with Belize on Friday,” Edgar, on loan from Birmingham City, said.
“You have to go and do a professional job and don’t want a banana peel and to slip up because that is always a worry. We need to take a good goal advantage down to Belize (for the second leg) because it is tough playing in these countries and playing on difficult pitches and in difficult circumstances.”
United have conceded just one goal in the five games defender Edgar has played so far, and he added: “I’ve loved every minute of it with Sheffield United.
“Obviously, you can’t complain when it is five games and five wins and I have been playing in every game. It is a fantastic club, a Championship/Premier League club. We have 25,000 coming out to matches in League One. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Adkins, meanwhile, has been nominated for the League One ‘Manager of the Month’ award for August. United overcame a 4-0 defeat on the opening day at Gillingham to win four league games on the bounce.
The winner will be announced tomorrow.