Baggies face Millwall at the Den on Tuesday (ko 7.45pm)
JAMES Shan is expecting a tough test for what will be a young Albion side when they pit their wits against Millwall in the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night.
The Baggies travel to the Den to face the Lions in their opening southern section encounter (ko 7.45pm), with Luton Town and Gillingham making up Group H.
A Wembley showpiece in April awaits the two finalists of the new-look competition, which is normally competed between third and fourth-tier EFL teams but has this year also been thrown open to 16 leading Academies, including 10 Premier League clubs.
And for Albion, who are one of those to have accepted the invitation, Shan believes it is a good opportunity.
“When we knew we were going to be entered into the competition, it’s a fabulous learning experience for everybody involved, players and staff,” he said.
“It’s a senior competition, we’re going up against senior pros, it’s going to be a real, real tough test and one I’m sure the players are buzzing about to be able to pit their wits against some senior pros and see how they fare.
“It will be a really good opportunity, as equal to a learning experience to almost be a leveller for the players and see where they’re at in this stage of their development.”
However, Shan is also acutely aware that he will be taking a largely inexperienced side to face a strong Millwall outfit, who are currently fifth in League One and reached the play-off final last season as well as the Trophy area final.
Left-back Kane Wilson, 16, will travel having been an unused substitute in Sunday’s Premier League stalemate against Middlesbrough.
However, no senior players will be involved while hot prospects Jonathan Leko and Sam Field are away on England duty, along with several fellow Academy players who have been called up for their respective nations.
A raft of loan deals has also left Shan, as it stands, without the services of at least eight Under-23 players heading into the encounter.
“The squad is going to be very, very similar to the squad that played against Wolves (in Premier League 2 on Friday night),” he added.
“We won’t have any seniors involved in it, it’s going to be all Academy players or young players. So that again means it will be a difficult task.
“You can look at it two ways – if you have some senior pros in there then it balances it out as a positive, and, equal to that, it can be a positive that so many of the young players are being exposed to the competition."
Shan added: “The competition allows you to have an 18-man squad so we’re definitely going to be made up on the bench of Under-18s.
“I think if we were to have our strongest Under-23 squad then there would be a really good opportunity for us to progress and go far in it.
“As it stands, it’s definitely going to be one we look to take a learning experience from and obviously try to compete and contest in the competition as best we possibly can.”