- Portsmouth beat Bury 3-0 last month to progress to the Checkatrade Trophy final
- Pompey beat both Tottenham U21s and Arsenal U21s in their journey to Wembley
- Man City U21s player Jeremie Frimpong feels the competition is massively beneficial to academy sides
Portsmouth defender Christian Burgess admitted he was “extremely thrilled” ahead of his team’s trip to Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy final this weekend – but was quick to criticise the inclusion of U21 sides in the competition.
Portsmouth saw off semi-final opponents Bury with ease during their trip to Gigg Lane in February, beating the League Two outfit 3-0 after a half-time substitution saw winger Jamal Lowe change the game for the visitors.
The victory will see Portsmouth travel to Wembley on March 31 to take on promotion rivals Sunderland. With both sides having sold out their allocations, the 2019 final is set to be the biggest yet.
However, the apparent success of this year’s competition hasn’t prevented complaints from flooding in and Burgess was not shy in jumping on the band wagon.
“It’s really no comparison to competing in the League Cup or the FA Cup,” Burgess claimed.
“Getting the U21s involved diminishes the competition for us lower league teams and it can feel pretty embarrassing coming up against players that are almost ten years younger than you.
“It can be a bit of a distraction if you’re playing regularly in the league too.”
Burgess’ relief at reaching Wembley comes as no surprise after Pompey weren’t quite so fortunate last season, being knocked out of the competition by Chelsea’s youngsters.
The 27-year-old said: “You have to be positive and celebrate it because, at the end of the day, we still get to go to Wembley.
“It’s unlikely that we will ever win the League Cup or FA Cup so it’s the only real chance of sides like us getting any silverware, so I do see it is as a good thing really.
“I’m extremely thrilled we get an opportunity to play at Wembley, not many can say that.”
Burgess is not alone in disagreeing with the introduction of U21 sides into the competition, with many lower league fans boycotting Checkatrade Trophy fixtures in protest.
Portsmouth fans in particular were making their thoughts clear on the new format – which was introduced in the 2016-17 season – leading to record-breaking low attendances at Fratton Park.
The editor of Portsmouth news site Fratton Faithful, Jim Bonner, is one of the many that stand against the competition and wasn’t at all pleased by his side reaching Wembley in their first outing to the stadium since the FA Cup final in 2010.
“Allowing these U21 teams into the Cup was an abhorrent decision,” Bonner said.
“Genuine fans of lower-league clubs have possibly missed out on a final because their club lost to a B team.
“I have no intention in going to Wembley – I’ve been boycotting ever since the U21 teams came into the competition and I’m not going to stop now.
“Although Sunderland making the final will be a dream come true for them.”
Sunderland’s first season in the Checkatrade Trophy has seen their attendances rocket above their fellow EFL sides’ with their derby against Newcastle U21s in January selling over 16,000 tickets – including 2,000 away fans making the short trip to the Stadium of Light.
Many EFL fans will be unhappy with the Black Cats’ refusal to join them in their protest against the new format – however, Sunderland’s impressive attendances have proved to be the perfect platform for Premier League youngsters.
18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was part of the inexperienced Manchester City side that lost on Wearside in front of a crowd of around 15,000 earlier this year, and the right-back was keen to defend the competition that gave him the exciting opportunity.
“It’s great that we’re allowed to play in this competition because it shows us what level we are at and how close we are to being ready for first team football,” Frimpong said.
“Playing against other players our age isn’t as challenging and doesn’t allow us to get a feeling for how close we are to being able to play at a higher level.”
Man City U21s had already beaten four senior sides in the competition prior to their visit to the North East, including an impressive win on penalties against League One title challengers Barnsley.
However, a team full of former Premier League players proved too much for City and Sunderland came out victorious with a 2-0 win.
Frimpong said: “The results aren’t massively important to us, it’s more about improving and getting better.
“Playing in front of such a big crowd gives you the opportunity to really express yourself and show what you’ve got.
“It’s a great way for young players to improve and get closer to first-team football. It helps out us academy players a lot.”
City were the last remaining U21 side in the competition, meaning the Checkatrade Trophy final will have consisted of two senior teams every year since the new format was introduced.
A final between Portsmouth and Sunderland will be the first time the two sides have faced off at Wembley – but the fixture may be repeated if the two are to reach the League One play-offs.
Burgess said he was eager for the trip to the capital to help his side in the final leg of their fight for promotion.
He said: “Getting to Wembley and hopefully winning the whole thing could give us the boost we need just at the right time.
“It’ll help with our momentum and the atmosphere around the club as we look to finish off our season on a high.”
The Checkatrade Trophy final will kick off at 2:30pm on March 31 and will be shown live on Sky Sports Football.