Into the last 32 of the Papa John’s Trophy, Norwich City Under-21s travel to Stadium MK to face ex-Canary Russell Martin’s MK Dons on Tuesday evening (7.45pm KO).
The young Canaries finished second-place in Southern Group F of the tournament, after wins over Plymouth Argyle and Newport County guaranteed their place into the knockout stages.
Their last outing of the group stage came against Cheltenham Town, the game a decider in who would top the group. The Robins went on to edge the result over City, taking a 1-0 win and claiming the home tie in their last 32 fixture.
The Under-23s (many of whom will feature for the U21s) have been on fine form in recent weeks, taking four points from a possible six in their last two games against Newcastle and Burnley.
Not only that, but just three losses in the league so far this season sees the Canaries joint top in the table, level on points with Middlesbrough and Leeds after nine games.
Russell Martin’s side are enjoying solid form of their own going into the festive schedule, taking a massive 2-1 win over Sunderland, a stalemate draw to Shrewsbury and another win over Charlton Athletic before recently losing out to Accrington Stanley.
The Papa John’s Trophy isn’t the only cup the Dons are in either, recently beating Barnet in the FA Cup second round and drawing Burnley in the third round.
Under-21s coach David Wright says his side are excited for the test ahead, crediting it as the perfect way for the players to measure their development in the Academy, much like their last three games against their senior opponents.
“We’re looking forward to it. The boys are, all the staff are as well, it’s another great opportunity for our lads to measure themselves up against seasoned pros.
“We’ve watched MK numerous times in terms of analysis, they’re a good footballing team. It’s going to be a real tough test.”
Asked about his expectations in facing Russell Martin in the clash, Wright warns that the ex-Canary will be well aware of their game plan, leaving it up to the U21s to have courage in their game for the result.
“Russ will know us inside out; he’ll know some of these boys personally. It’ll be a really good test, once again we’ve just got to make sure we turn up and we’re brave enough to play the way we want to play.
“To be fair to the boys, the three games we’ve previously had in the tournament this season, they’ve done that, so hopefully we can do it again.”
Meanwhile, U21s defender Ethen Vaughan says the team have had the ideal week of preparation for the game, giving them good reason to be confident going into the game.
“I think the lads are confident, we’ve had a really good week of training. Everyone has put the effort in, working hard and I think going into the game we’ll be really, really confident.
“It’ll be a good test for the lads, like I said, everyone has worked really hard throughout the week. It’ll be the test, it will be a good one to see where we’re at as a group, we’re all looking forward to it. It’s a good experience to play against men’s football.”
Asked about the prospect of reaching the last 16 in the tournament, Vaughan described getting so far as ‘unbelievable’ for the young group.
“It would be unbelievable for the lads, the group and the coaches, it would be a pleasure to get there. We’ve played against really good teams; I think just to see how far we could go, it would be very interesting.”