Page's hands tied as EFL rules limit changes for Checkatrade Trophy trip to Coventry City

Cobblers assistant manager Paul Wilkinson
Cobblers assistant manager Paul Wilkinson

Paul Wilkinson has admitted there is some frustration that the Cobblers can't maximise their squad options in the Checkatrade Trophy clash at Coventry City on Tuesday night (ko 7.45pm).

With the new loan regulations brought in prior to this season, clubs are now carrying much larger squads to ensure there is cover for injuries and suspensions.

In the Cobblers' case, it means several players have seen little or no first team action at all so far this season, and on the face of it Tuesday's trip to the Ricoh Arena looks an ideal opportunity to give all of those first-team squad members some valuable game time.

Rod McDonald, one of the stars of the Cobblers' Sky Bet League Two title-winning team, has yet to play a minute of football for the first team this season, while Lawson D'Ath, Joel Byrom, Aaron Phillips, Emmanuel Sonupe and goalkeeper David Cornell haven't taken to the pitch since the previous match in the Checkatrade Trophy, a 3-0 home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers.

Skipper Marc Richards has only started two games, the most recent of those on August 20, JJ Hooper has started just once and made three substitute appearances since signing on loan from Port Vale, and Alfie Potter hasn't kicked off a match since the 0-0 draw at Oldham Athletic on August 16.

But EFL rules for the Checkatrade Trophy mean six players who started Saturday's 3-2 defeat to Bristol Rovers must also start against Coventry, and that obviously ties manager Rob Page's hands to some degree - unless the club are prepared to take the hit of a £5,000 fine.

One player who definitely won't play at Coventry is Gaby Zakuani as he is on international duty with the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Raheem Hanley is still sidelined due to his hamstring problem and others are believed to be struggling with various niggles.

"In an ideal world, everybody would say 'we would like to change everybody', and everybody would like to give everybody a game," said Wilkinson ahead of the trip to the Ricoh.

"All clubs would probably feel the same as that, but you have to respect the Football League's wishes, you have to respect their cup, and you have to make sure you do the right thing, and we want to do that.

"It gives us a chance to give two or three of the players a game, and that is important for them and for us because they don't always get the match time that they need because there are so many matches, and we are not able to get reserve matches.

"It is important these players get the opportunity at the right times, because we are going to need them.

"It is a long, hard season, we are only 10 or 11 games into it and there are 35, 36 to go, and as big a squad as it is, we are going to need everybody."

Asked if this was a game that the Cobblers could do without after a hectic run of four games in the space of 10 days, the Town assistant manager said: "I don't think we can ever say we can do without a game, because it is another competition and it's another thing we take seriously.

"It has just come at the end of a tough run of games."

Coventry go into the game without a manager after the decision of Tony Mowbray to resign last week, but boosted by their first win of the season after a 2-0 league one victory under caretaker boss Mark Venus at Port Vale on Saturday.

Wilkinson wasn't surprised the Sky Blues broke their duck at Vale Park, and feels Coventry could be in a false position in the bottom four of the table as it is so early in the season.

"It is a standard thing, where clubs tend to lose their manager and then they go and win their next game, but as always it is about us," said Wilkinson. "We are ready for it and we are looking forward to the game.

"I think if you look at any league table at the minute, whether it be the Premier League, the Championship or league one, everybody is capable of beating anyone in any league.

"As we said about Saturday, if you are that one or two per cent down then you can get punished.

"From week to week it is going to vary, and the main thing is you concentrate on yourselves and make sure you do your own things well."

Looking back to the weekend defeat against Rovers, Wilkinson felt the amount of games recently caught up with some of the Town players and that affected their concentration at the key moments.

"I think we were our own worst enemies at times," said the Cobblers assistant boss. "We gave away three goals that over the past few weeks we wouldn't have given away.

"A couple of set-plays have cost us which is unusual for us, so we just need to get back to making sure we concentrate properly on those things, and make sure we deal with the situations we were presented with on Saturday in a better way."

And he added: "It was our fourth game in 10 days, and that could have been a factor in the second half.

"There was all the fervour of the Manchester United game, and then we had a tough midweek game at Swindon Town which the boys put a lot of effort into, and maybe it was just a lack of concentration on the day.

"But that is something we have to sharpen up on, because you do get punished in this league.

"We have shown over the past few weeks that we haven't got to be afraid of anybody, but we also know that if we are not at our best and aren't 100 per cent we can get punished.

"We have to make sure that whatever time of a game it is, or whether it's our third or fourth game in 10 days, that we stay sharp and maintain our concentration."