If the aim of this season’s renovated Checkatrade Trophy was to alienate fans, antagonise managers and stage utterly pointless penalty shoot-outs in near-empty stadiums, it’s unquestionably been a resounding success.
So disillusioned have Cobblers fans become that not even 800 could muster the energy or motivation to attend Northampton’s dead rubber with West Ham U21s on Tuesday, the 762 attendance at Sixfields the lowest ever for a competitive home game in Northampton Town’s history.
It’s a sad state of affairs when clubs up and down the country are setting new record low attendances, but it’s only an accurate reflection of the apathetic attitude felt by many towards this season’s revamped format.
You can’t blame fans for being so uninterested; why would anyone want to spend money and time watching a game between what is essentially a reserve team and a bunch of kids? That’s not even considering the fact that neither side could make any further progress.
The fault lies with the authorities and the muddled thinking at EFL headquarters, who vowed to ease fixture congestion yet decided on a new group stage format, meaning teams will play at least three games regardless.
And even now, with the group stage complete, there are still 32 teams left in the competition. That means four more rounds must be played before two teams finally reach Wembley.
If you have ever wondered what it’s like to see a dead rubber end in the world’s most pointless penalty shoot-out in front of an empty stadium, wonder no more.
This was a surreal experience, not helped by the quality of penalties as Harry Beautyman, Emmanuel Sonupe and John-Joe O’Toole all failed to hit the target, the latter two missing by such a margin that it almost seemed intentional in an attempt to end the madness of it all.
And when O’Toole did lazily balloon over, that signalled the end of Northampton’s Checkatrade Trophy campaign, not that West Ham, or anyone in fact, seemed to realise it.
Handing game-time to those who have had little chance to shine this season was the only benefit to Northampton, though few players made much of an impression.
Alfie Potter was busy and lively with his driving runs and slick footwork, while Emmanuel Sonupe and Harry Beautyman had the home side’s clearest openings, having five chances between them with only one converted.
Joel Byrom’s passing was crisp as ever but he faded, perhaps unsurprisingly, and if Page was hoping for players to give him a few selection headaches, he would have been disappointed.
And so ends Northampton’s participation in the Checkatrade Trophy. Now to more important matters.
How they rated...
David Cornell - Made a couple of comfortable stops, well beaten for the goal... 7
Aaron Phillips - Doesn’t always seem totally comfortable on the ball, and he’s often let down by a poor first touch. Moloney won’t feel his place is under threat any time soon... 6
Zander Diamond - Cruised through 45 minutes before earning a well-deserved rest... 6
Lewin Nyatanga - Largely comfortable evening up against a tricky and slippery attack... 7
David Buchanan - Almost walked through the 45 minutes he was given, even had the audacity to shoot on the volley from 35 yards. Needless to say it didn’t go in.... 6
John-Joe O’Toole - Terrible penalty summed up the evening. Never really got himself a foothold in the game... 6
Joel Byrom - His crisp, precise passing was integral to most of Town’s best play in the first-half, and he delivered the free-kick which led to the opener. Became sloppy after half-time... 7
Harry Beautyman - Excellent first-time finish put Cobblers ahead and he got himself into good positions to threaten more goals, only for his finishing to desert him... 7 CHRON STAR MAN
Alfie Potter - As lively as anyone in a Cobblers shirt, constantly looking to drive at West Ham. Didn’t always happen for him but he at least tried to force the issue... 7
Emmanuel Sonupe - Shot wide and had an effort cleared off the line as he frittered in and out of the game. Raw ability is there but needs to toughen up and work on his decision-making... 6
Alex Revell - Still ran around like a mad man, albeit with slightly less gusto. Provided the focal point for Northampton to play around... 7
Rod McDonald - 6
Raheem Hanley - 6
Joe Iaciofano - 6