Hartlepool United hope for better fortunes in Football League Cup starting at Notts County

You could never accuse Hartlepool United of having a love affair with the EFL Trophy.

Tuesday, 30th August 2016, 12:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th August 2016, 1:21 pm
Nicky Featherstone after his penalty for Hartlepool United against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID
Nicky Featherstone after his penalty for Hartlepool United against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID

Pools, one of the minority of clubs NEVER to grace Wembley, kick off on the road to the Twin Towers - or should that now by the Arch - at Notts County this evening.

It is the first match in Group F with Craig Hignett’s team also taking on Sunderland U23 and League One Rochdale.

Pools have taken part in every season of the EFL Trophy, in its various guises, Associate Members Cup, Freight Rover, Sherpa Vans, Leyland DAF , Auto Windscreens, LDV Vans and Johnstone’s Paints.

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Lots of different names and not a lot of success where Pools have been concerned.

The only real flirtation with glory in this competition for League One and Two clubs came almost three decades ago.

Pools won 1-0 on a blustery night at Roker Park to oust Sunderland, courtesy of Brian Honour’s goal direct from a corner, and went all the way to the Northern semi-final in 1988, only for Preston North End to win 2-0 at the Vic.

Bar that, the seasons have been largely barren - Sheffield United won on penalties to dump out Pools this time last season.

Will the Checkatrade Trophy be any kinder to Pools?

We will have some idea by November 8 when the group stage is complete.

Certainly, the tournament is different this time.

The invitation of the Premier U23 sides created controversy and much moaning from fans from many lower league clubs.

While the EFL Trophy will still feature the clubs of Leagues One and Two, it was extended to include 16 so-called category one Premier League academy teams.

Some big clubs have declined, though Premier neighbours Middlesbrough and Sunderland are among those invitees to take up the place.

Initially, there will be 16 groups of four clubs, each of which will include at least one side from each of Leagues One and Two, along with one invited academy team.

Pools meet League Two rivals Notts County tonight, host Sunderland on October 4 and Rochdale on November 8.

The top two from each group go to the knockout stages with the final set for Wembley Stadium on Sunday, April 2.

The arrival of the U23 teams comes with potential financial compensations.

Thanks to the backing of the richest league in the world, the Checkatrade Trophy has a £1.95million prize pot, including £10,000 per win and £5,000 per draw during the groups.

If Pools can pull in 20 grand then that should mean they will reach the knock-out stages.

It might not mean the club would be in love with the competition but it would be good to see it on more friendly terms.