WITH two League One scalps from Yorkshire to their name already, Hartlepool United are clearly not a team to be taken lightly in this season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Rotherham United, therefore, will approach tonight’s Northern Area quarter-final at Victoria Park in cautious, if determined, mood as they look to improve what is a pretty average record for the county in a competition that started life as the Associate Members’ Cup.
In the 30 seasons since Hull City lost the first final to Bournemouth at Boothferry Park – the final shifted to Wembley the following season – only two White Rose clubs have lifted the trophy.
Considering Lancashire has five past winners and even Carlisle United have prevailed twice at Wembley, such a record is disappointing for a county that has had no shortage of competing teams over the past three decades.
Yorkshire’s JPT woes have largely continued this season courtesy of Hartlepool who, after thrashing Bradford City 5-0 in the first round, brought an abrupt end to David Weir’s short tenure in charge of Sheffield United with a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane.
Standing between Colin Cooper’s side and a hat-trick of White Rose scalps are Steve Evans’s men and Alex Revell, fresh from scoring in Saturday’s convincing FA Cup win over Bradford City, insists Rotherham are up for the challenge.
He said: “It is easy to lift ourselves for a trip to Hartlepool, of course it is. The manager doesn’t let you drop off. At this stage, you are three or four games away from a trip to Wembley. There is no point turning up if you are not going to put yourself up for it.”
Rotherham, who along with Doncaster Rovers are Yorkshire’s previous winners of the Trophy, will make changes tonight.
Iceland World Cup hopeful Kari Arnason is suspended after his fifth booking of the season in the Cup win over Bradford, while manager Evans has vowed to ring the changes ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Stevenage.
Captain Craig Morgan is available after suspension, as is Tom Eaves, who has been granted permission to play by parent club Bolton after having to sit out Saturday’s derby win because the Championship side wanted to keep him available for their own Cup exploits in the new year.
Claude Davis is also pushing for possible inclusion after returning to the bench following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, leaving just David Worrall on the absentee list.
Evans’s hand is forced slightly by Trophy regulations, which state that a team must include either six of the previous game’s starting XI or six of the club’s 11 highest appearance makers in league and cup this season.
Evans, who will be without Michael O’Connor tonight through an injury which forces him out of the Northern Ireland squad, said: “There will be changes for Hartlepool. We will respect the rules and the changes will probably be the maximum, with two of them enforced.
“Hartlepool are in sparkling form and it will be a difficult game against the form team in the country. But it is a competition we would like to make progress in.”
Despite his plan to make maximum changes, Rotherham are considered by bookmakers SkyBet to be joint second favourites to win the Trophy behind Peterborough United.
Looking at the make-up of the Northern Area last eight, it is easy to see why the Millers join Leyton Orient at being priced at 7-1 to prevail in the Spring final with no less than half of the remaining clubs being in League Two.
A possible route to Wembley, therefore, is clear for all to see.
One major plus for the Millers will be the manner of Saturday’s Cup win, with Evans full of praise for the manner in which his attack tore into the Bantams.
He said: “(Matt) Tubbs and Revell were fantastic (on Saturday).
“They covered every blade of glass and the Bradford back four will have had sore legs. It was a thoroughly professional display.”
On Tubbs, who is on loan from Bournemouth and on the evidence of the last couple of games getting back towards his best, Evans added: “He is a goalscorer, but the first thing that always impressed us was his work-rate
“When he works as hard as that, he earns the right to get the chance and if you earn the right then Tubbsy should, and normally does, take them.
“He is a kid that gets his head down and works hard, he is not a kid who has come from a privileged background. He is a bit like me, he has come from having holes in his shoes. He is a fantastic professional, so when you have a fantastic professional then you want those lads to do particularly well.”
Rotherham, whose best win on the road in the Trophy was 4-1 at Hartlepool in 1989-90, reached tonight’s area quarter-final by beating York City in the previous round.
Last six games: Hartlepool United WWWLWW, Rotherham United LLDLDW.
Last time: Hartlepool 3 Rotherham 1; October 17, 2006; Football League Trophy.
Referee: D Drysdale (Lincolnshire).