Before the game against Accrington Stanley, Slaven Bilic found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. He was in a predicament, a quandary, he was on the horns of a dilemma, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Whichever way you look at it he couldn’t really win. All managers in this position cannot win.
Should he select the best possible team to try to ensure a comfortable victory and boost the confidence of players that have lost four games in a row? Or should he give all the fringe players in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the team? If we won the game easily then, well, that is what you should expect at home to a mid-table league two side. But, if the unthinkable should happen, and we went out of the competition that gives us the best possible chance of winning a trophy, then he would be slaughtered by the media, the fans, and possibly his employers, too. You have to remember too that he knew that before this game it would only take five wins for us to lift the EFL cup, and qualify for Europe for the third season in a row.
As it turned out he chose a team close to the second option with only Nordtveit, Ogbonna, Masuaku, and Zaza in the starting eleven of the team who started the last game at the Hawthorns. None of the retained four played well at the weekend, and Masuaku had one of the worst games in the history of West Ham defenders, and there have been some candidates for this honour over the years. If we’d had an alternative fit left back I’m sure he would have been included. I read one tongue-in-cheek article today suggesting that Dicks and Bilic should dig out their boots and play. What is perhaps surprising is that two renowned defenders from our past cannot seem to coach our present defenders.
Having chosen the fringe player option I particularly liked the pairing of Obiang and Edimilson, making his debut along with the experienced Arbeloa. The surprising omission from my point of view was that of Oxford. If ever there was an opportunity to give this brilliant prospect some game time then surely this was it. I hope that he doesn’t get too disillusioned with his lack of opportunities. You never know how much to believe in what you read in the media nowadays, but I would hate to see him leave us, as he must be one of the brightest up and coming talents in the game.
The joint-chairmen today issued a lengthy statement acknowledging some of the issues surrounding the stadium in respect of the three s’s, segregation, stewarding and standing, although the latter was cleverly referred to as “appropriate grouping of likeminded supporters”! This game was not the one to test if any improvement has been made in any of these areas. That will come when we get back towards a full stadium at the weekend. Only 39,877 were present to witness yet another dismal performance. Note the attendance ending in “77” yet again.
This report of the game hasn’t so far mentioned anything that happened. That is mainly because very little did actually happen! Shades of visiting minnows in cup competitions in the past came to mind. Why do we seem to find it so difficult to see off teams that we should be beating comfortably? After a totally lacklustre first half, anybody visiting from planet Mars, could not distinguish which team were Premier League and which were League Two.
Lanzini and Payet were introduced at the beginning of the second half to replace the ineffective Feghouli and Tore and the game livened up a little. Later in the half Antonio replaced Calleri, but despite getting well on top as the League Two side tired we were still unable to break them down. As extra time approached Masuaku left the field on a stretcher, and we were down to ten men. Six additional minutes were signalled by the fourth official, and a shot from Obiang brought a magnificent save from the keeper.
As extra time beckoned (which is what extra time does!)we were awarded a free kick in a central position 25 yards from goal and up stepped the imperious Dimitri Payet to score yet another trademark goal in the 96th minute to take us into Round 4. Accrington Stanley put up a brave performance and restricted us to just four shots on target.
But if you are going to be beaten then to lose to a moment of brilliance is perhaps the best way. It might have been a different story if we had to face extra time with just ten men, but Payet ensured that it didn’t happen.
The draw for Round Four took place shortly after the end of the game, and of the ten Premier League teams left in the competition, eight have been drawn to face each other with some mouth-watering ties. We are at home to Chelsea.
- West Ham v Chelsea
- Man Utd v Man City
- Arsenal v Reading
- Liverpool v Tottenham
- Bristol City v Hull
- Leeds v Norwich
- Newcastle v Preston
- Southampton v Sunderland