As I wrote prior to the last round of the competition, our two realistic chances of a trophy before the season began, and now our only two opportunities, come in the domestic cup competitions. And when you analyse the competitions in detail, you realise how relatively easy they should be to win. The EFL Cup can be won by getting through four rounds of football and then winning the final at Wembley. Sounds easy doesn’t it? To be handed a draw at home to Accrington Stanley of League Two should have been a very easy passage into the last 16, but, although we made it in the end, we made heavy weather of it.
Prior to the last round we were the seventh or eighth favourites to land the trophy (you could get odds of between 14/1 and 20/1), so the bookmakers at that time fancied our chances more than some teams higher than us in the Premier League. Now, with just sixteen teams remaining, and just one home game away from a place in the quarter-final our odds have drifted to 25/1, making us eighth favourites to land the trophy. Chelsea are fourth favourites at 11/2, so you can see who the bookmakers believe are going to win this tie. And it’s not as if Chelsea are pulling up trees themselves this season.
Recent history gives us a chance. Although they beat us with a very late goal in the opening match of this season at Stamford Bridge (by a player who should not have still been on the pitch at the time!), we won the last encounter at Upton Park on 24 October last year with goals from Zarate and substitute Carroll. This win was one that hastened the departure of Jose Mourinho. Do you recall those forlorn photographs of him standing in front of the directors’ box after he had been sent off by the referee.
The only time that we have met them in a League Cup tie at Upton Park was in the third round of the 1994-95 competition, on October 26 1994. Don Hutchison scored the goal that enabled us to progress to the next round (where we were eliminated by Bolton!). Of course we have never won the competition ourselves, but Chelsea have won it five times, most recently in 2015. Our two friends, Terry and Costa scored the goals that beat our other friends from White Hart Lane 2-0.
In 2004 (October 27), when we were only in the Championship, we met them in this round at Stamford Bridge and they ran out winners 1-0. They went on to win the trophy that year beating Liverpool in the Final. They were also the runaway champions of the Premier League that season, winning by a dozen points, and only losing one league match in the process. So our narrow defeat, given our position at the time, was a noteworthy performance.
By coincidence we meet them once again on October 26. Despite our relatively poor form this season, this is a one-off cup tie and anything can happen. Hopefully we can take advantage of the home draw and progress into the last eight.