‘If it’s good enough for Jurgen Klopp...’ – Lambert prepared to take EFL Trophy fine
Ipswich Town manager Paul Lambert says it’s ‘crazy’ that EFL Trophy has gone ahead this season and that he is prepared to break the rules tomorrow night when picking his team to face Gillingham at Portman Road (7pm ko).
In a season truncated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ipswich will play a minimum of 52 games in a 36 week period. That’s 46 matches in League One, two having already taken place in the Carabao Cup, with at least one to come in the FA Cup and a minimum of three group matches in the EFL Trophy. Reach the final of the Trophy and that’s five more matches.
A strong Town side lost 2-1 at home to Arsenal’s Under-21s in their Group B opener four weeks ago. Defeat to Gillingham tomorrow night could, depending on results elsewhere, seal their exit from the competition and leave a dead rubber to play at Crawley on Tuesday, November 10.
Rules state that clubs must start at least four ‘first team’ outfield players – the criteria for which is wide. Fail to do that and a £5,000 fine is issued.
Lambert has been saying for weeks that he’ll ‘play the kids’, stating that ‘it’s my team and if I get fined for it then so be it’. That suggests that only two or three from the likes of Janoi Donacien, Emyr Huws, Luke Woolfenden, Alan Judge and Kayden Jackson – the latter three all just back from injuries – will feature tomorrow.
MORE: Town will now have a game on Saturday after agreeing Blackpool date“It will be a young team and I make no apologies for it,” said Lambert, who blooded the likes of Tyreece Simpson, Liam Gibbs, Tommy Hughes and Tawanda Chirewa in the Trophy last season.
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“If it’s good enough for (Liverpool boss) Jurgen Klopp to play his kids in the FA Cup when he’s got Premier League games and Champions League games to worry about, then it’s good enough for us. We’ll take the hit whatever comes our way with it. I have to look after the first team.”
Town have a long injury list at present, with Stephen Ward and Flynn Downes joining the likes of James Norwood, Kane Vincent-Young, Cole Skuse and Aaron Drinan in the treatment room.
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Asked if he might use tomorrow night’s game to get some minutes into the legs of fringe payers and those just back from injuries, he said: “No, I won’t do it because it’ll put them at risk. We can’t risk more injuries.”
Lambert, whose side lost to Exeter in the last 16 of the Trophy last season, continued: “Fifty-odd games in a 35-week season is absolutely ludicrous. Playing the EFL Trophy is really, really mental.
“They should have sacrificed that tournament for one year at least until we get supporters back. To go and play another six games, or whatever, is absolute nonsense.”
MORE: ‘Last year we would have maybe lost the game’ - Judge on Town’s 1-1 MK Dons drawDoes that mean he wouldn’t be too disappointed not to get beyond the group stages? “We go and try and win, but you’re asking people to go through 50-odd games in a 35-week season. That’s absolutely mental. It’s a crazy situation.”
Asked whether managers were consulted before the decision to play the competition was made, he responded: “What do you think? I’ve got no doubt every manager would have said they had to sacrifice something. I think common sense had to prevail and I don’t think it has.”
Town’s two new loan signings, centre-back Mark McGuinness and left-winger Keanan Bennetts, won’t be involved tonight. Arsenal’s McGuinness is cup-tied, having played against Town earlier in the competition, while Lambert says new boy Bennetts, who arrived from German side Borussia Monchengladbach last Friday, ‘needs a week or so with everybody here to find his feet’.
EFL TROPHY SELECTION RULES
– Each EFL club shall play its ‘full available strength’ side. That means at least four of the starting 10 outfield players must meet qualification criteria.
– A qualifying player must either have: started the previous first team fixture, subsequently start the next first team fixture, be among the club’s top 10 starters this season, made 40 or more first team starts at club/international level in their career, be on loan from a Premier League club or any EFL Club operating a Category One academy.
EFL TROPHY COMPETITION RULES
– The top two from each four-team group progresses to the regionalised first knockout round.
– Drawn group matches see each team awarded a point. The game then goes straight to a penalty shootout, the winner of which gets a bonus point.