Portsmouth v Fleetwood the victim of League One international call-up rule that EFL needs to address
As Pompey head into another weekend without a game to prepare for, isn’t it time the EFL reconsidered it’s approach to international breaks for League One?
The Blues are one of 10 third-tier clubs having an enforced break on Saturday as players fly off to far-flung places to represent their national sides.
That means almost half of the matches scheduled for this weekend in the division have had to be rearranged, with Pompey’s home game against Fleetwood one of five to be called off over the past week.
Bristol Rovers v Sunderland, Burton Albion v Southend United, Doncaster Rovers v Shrewsbury and Oxford v Ipswich are the others affected by international call-ups now impacting beyond the traditional confines of the Premier League and the Championship.
In fact, widening the spectrum further, three fixtures in League Two have had to be postponed for the same reason.
Meanwhile, Guiseley v Kidderminster in National League North and Hemel Hempstead Town v Weymouth in National League South are matches that have also been called off as they too have players unavailable to fulfil the fixture – and that’s sixth-tier level football in England being affected by international fixtures.
There’s many reasons behind this growing trend - from clubs at all levels pushing the boat out on players as they strive for bigger and better things; the disproportionate amount of players out of contract at a season’s ends compared to clubs; and the expansion and importance placed on international football at all levels.
The latter, for example, is hugely responsible for this weekend’s League One fixture list being sliced almost in half.
At present, a club has the right to call a game off if three of their players have been selected by their respective international sides.
Pompey’s home fixture against Fleetwood has fallen by the wayside because two of the Cod Army’s three call-ups have commitments with the under-21 sides of England and Wales respectively – not the senior side.
Ipswich’s trip to Oxford has been rearranged for a later date because the Tractor Boys will see players head off to represent England under-20s (Andre Dozzell and Flynn Downes), Albania under-19s (Armando Dobra) and Tunisa under-23s (Idris El Mizouni).
Meanwhile, Shrewsbury had the right to call off their trip to Shrewsbury because of Grenada’s international fixtures.
Aaron Pierre, Omar Beckles and Oliver Norburn have all been selected for the Caribbean country's forthcoming games against St Kitts & Nevis and Belize.
The Shrews’ Ryan Giles has also been called up by England under-20s.
The profile of international football clearly casts a large shadow.
The EFL powers that be should recognise this and bring League One football in line with the Championship, which has no fixtures pencilled in for international weekends.
Alternatively, they should change the rules and, like rugby, insist that games go ahead regardless of call-ups.
Blues boss Kenny Jackett admitted before Fleetwood exercised their right to cancel Saturday’s fixture that he was keen for the game to be played.
That was despite the selection of Craig MacGillivray (Scotland), Ross McCrorie (Scotland under-21s) and Ronan Curtis (Republic of Ireland provisional squad) and the potential of Ryan Williams being called up for Australia.
Ultimately, there was no need to make that decision, with McCrorie picking up a hamstring injury, Curtis failing to make the cut with Eire and Williams left out by the Socceroos.
However, the game was cancelled anyway following calls ups for Fleetwood trio Harry Souttar (Australia), Dan Mooney (Wales under-21s) and Billy Crellin (England under-21s).
Fair enough considering Pompey rescheduled their home game against Southend United for the very same reason.
But looking into the three Cod Army players who would have missed the Fratton Park game if it had gone ahead, only one is a first-team regular.
Stoke loanee Souttar has played 18 of Fleetwood’s 20 games in all competitions to date.
However, keeper Crellin has made only one appearance all season and was on loan at non-league Chorley until the end of September following the arrival of experienced stopper Matt Gilks.
As for Mooney, he’s made just two appearances this season, while his only outing in the league came as a 82nd-minute substitute against Rochdale on September 21.
He’s only made a match-day squad on two other occasions this campaign and is clearly a player on the fringes of things at the Highbury Stadium.
Fleetwood played by the rules when calling of their trip to Fratton Park.
However, it shows clubs can use the rules to suit themselves – Barton recently expressed concern about his side’s away form following their defeat at Bolton on November 2.
And it's for reasons like that why the Football League need to assess their League One stance when it comes to international breaks.