Tottenham’s Carabao Cup clash against Leyton Orient was on the brink of being called off on Monday night after a spate of coronavirus cases at the League Two club.
Jose Mourinho’s side will be handed victory after the crisis at Orient, with multiple sources telling Sportsmail that as many as 10 players had tested positive. The club were still awaiting further results on Monday night.
Players from both clubs were convinced the game would be postponed and, according to EFL rules, Orient’s inability to fulfil the fixture would hand Tottenham a place in the fourth round. There was, however, no EFL confirmation that the game was off on Monday night.
Leyton Orient’s Breyer Group Stadium has been put in lockdown after a squad Covid outbreak
The League Two club are due to take on Tottenham in an EFL Cup third-round game on Tuesday
For Spurs, it might come as a relief as they face a one-off Europa League qualifying round tie in Macedonia on Thursday.
However, in a wider sense football’s congested calendar could be thrown into further turmoil, even though the Premier League and EFL are believed to have reassured clubs that the chances of Covid-19 spreading through on-pitch contact are minimal.
The outbreak represents a huge blow for Orient, who miss out on a prestige tie with Mourinho’s side and Sky TV money during already troubling times.
It also serves as a warning for clubs and the authorities over the risks of playing during the pandemic, especially now that teams below the top flight are no longer required to regularly test their players.
As Sportsmail revealed last week, the EFL are not carrying out weekly testing, with many Premier League clubs instead footing the bill ahead of cup clashes with lower-league opposition.
Indeed, Tottenham paid for the tests which revealed the outbreak at Orient, and Liverpool are among other top-flight sides asking the opposition to follow suit.
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Orient’s players were tested after Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Mansfield, who have lodged a complaint to the EFL. They were only alerted on Monday that Orient manager Ross Embleton had said before Saturday’s match that a ‘number of people (were) suffering with illnesses’.
He insisted at the time it was ‘not a Covid issue’ and claimed after the game that up to ‘nine players’ were instead struggling with a ‘bug’.
Orient’s medical staff had made regular check-ups on those affected and were comfortable that players’ symptoms were not related to coronavirus.
EFL rules for non-fulfilment of fixtures
5.1 A Club which is unable to fulfil its obligation to complete a Competition match in Round One to (and including) Round Four due to either:
5.1.1 that Club’s Player(s) having returned a positive CAT result and self-isolating in accordance with the action plan set out in the Return to Play/Return to Training Protocols resulting in the Club not having a sufficient number of Players to fulfil the fixture; or
5.1.2 any requirements or directions of the UK Government and/or by any public authority,
shall forfeit the fixture, pay the opposing Club’s expenses in accordance with Rule 5.8 and the opposing team shall receive a bye into the next round of the Competition.
That changed on the day before the game, when a couple showed signs linked to the virus. They were left out of the match as a precaution and are understood to be among the positive tests.
Mansfield would have asked for Orient’s squad to be tested before their meeting. Instead they claim to have paid more than £3,000 — a sizeable outlay for a club of their size — to test their own players.
Orient, meanwhile, tested theirs after Saturday’s game and delays in results being returned meant that the scale of the outbreak emerged only on Monday morning.
At lunchtime, Orient released a statement announcing that ‘a number’ of players had caught the virus.
‘Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow Government self-isolation guidelines,’ the club confirmed. It was also revealed that their training ground and stadium would go into shutdown.
Orient then liaised with Public Health England, whose advice will inform the EFL’s decision.
With fourth-round ties scheduled for next week, there was not enough time to rearrange, so Spurs now entertain the winner of Wednesday night’s Chelsea-Barnsley tie.
Under new EFL protocols, clubs were subject to a reduced testing programme during pre-season which stopped on the eve of the new campaign.
Players have to be tested on return from international duty but otherwise EFL protocol stretches only to guidelines over social distancing and hygiene procedures. The EFL insist this is not a cost-cutting measure, rather a decision based on evidence from Project Restart, when more than 99 per cent of tests carried out returned negative results.
Liverpool, who face Lincoln on Thursday, also offered to pay for the League One side to be tested, as did West Ham, who welcome Hull to the London Stadium on Tuesday.
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It is understood Aston Villa (v Bristol City), Fulham (v Sheffield Wednesday), Burnley (v Millwall), Newcastle (v Morecambe) and Manchester United (v Luton) were happy to follow EFL protocols and will not test their opposition. Brentford turned down West Brom’s offer to have their squad tested.
Mansfield will test all first-team players and staff within 24 hours. ‘The squad reported for training and no player reported feeling unwell or has experienced symptoms of Covid-19,’ said the club.
Spurs had planned to field a rotated team at Orient, with Mourinho complaining at a ‘total joke’ of a schedule which could have meant nine games in 21 days.
Additional reporting: Adrian Kajumba and Craig Hope
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