Hartlepool set to face Sunderland or Middlesbrough in Trophy

Gary Coxall
Gary Coxall

Hartlepool United look set to face Sunderland or Middlesbrough in the new-look EFL Trophy next season.

The English Football League have agreed to allow 16 Premier League U21 teams into the competition formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paints Trophy.

The opening stages will be played in 16 regional groups of four teams.

Previously, under its old format, the JPT was made up purely of League One and League Two clubs in a knock-out tournament climaxing at Wembley.

Barnsley, including Hartlepool teenager Harry Chapman, were the champions last season, beating Oxford 3-2 in front of a near 60,000 crowd.

But next season, there could be the prospect of two of the top flight’s second strings playing out a final at Wembley in front of a handful of fans.

The introduction of the Premier U21 sides will swell the EFL trophy to 64 teams and in a new format.

The opening stages will be played in 16 regional groups of four teams with the Premier sides being distributed equally.

That will almost certainly mean Pools meeting either Sunderland or Boro, whose U21 team occasionally play their Premier Reserve League games at the Vic, being in the same group.

The top two teams from each group will progress to the last 32 with full details for 2016-17 cup due to be finalised in the next 14 days.

Pools chairman Gary Coxall said that his club voted against the change to the competition at the EFL summer conference in Portugal.

The Premier League is understood to have provided £1million to create a total prize fund of £1.95m, with bonuses awarded for each win.

Each team will play each other once in the group stage, with the academy team getting just one home game.

The category one Premier League academies eligible to enter are: Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Hull City, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland,

Tottenham, West Brom and West Ham