With no European distraction this year West Ham join the other Premier League also-rans to enter this season’s EFL Carabao Cup at the second round stage. Theoretically the easiest domestic competition for a club like ours to win the cup has still been dominated by the big clubs over recent seasons with the ‘top six’ having lifted eleven of the last thirteen trophies.
In its various guises the League Cup is a competition that the Hammers have never won; the closest being losing finalists in 1966 and 1981 together with a handful of semi-final eliminations. A tie against a Cheltenham side that just about managed to cling on to their Football League status at the death last season and are currently sitting in 20th spot in League Two should be a formality for any Premier League club; although West Ham have endured embarrassing exits in the past to the likes of Darlington, Rotherham, Stockport (twice), Chesterfied and Aldershot. With the original home draw having been switched to an away game, to accommodate the London Stadium re-configuration, the potential banana-skin-ometer may well have slipped closer to ‘upset’ than might otherwise have been the case.
The Hammers saw off Cheltenham (then in League One) at the same stage of the competition in 2013 when goals from Ricardo Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison helped secure a 2-1 victory at Upton Park. Although Cheltenham are relative newcomers to the football league there have been a cluster of Hammer’s connections with Cheltenham over the years: former West Ham players Bobby Gould and Martin Allen both briefly sat in the manager’s seat at Whaddon Road in 2003 and 2008 respectively; Michail Antonio made his senior league debut for Cheltenham, while on loan from Reading, during Allen’s reign; West Ham academy players Jamie Victory, Grant McCann, Josh Payne, Emmanuel Onariase and current U21 star Alex Pike all had loan spells with Cheltenham with Victory and McCann going on to enjoy extended careers with The Robins.
There has been much made already about teams fielding weakened sides in last night’s first crop of EFL Round Two matches. Quite why teams that have no hope of winning anything else do this is a mystery to me. Does it seriously affect Premier League survival chances?
On the evidence to date it is difficult to see how West Ham could field a weakened defence but we can expect to see first outings of the season for Adrain, James Collins and Sam Byram tonight. Elsewhere, Diafro Sakho will probably be a starter as will Edmilson Fernandes and there may be call-ups for some of the U21 players who featured in the Premier League 2 win over Spurs on Monday, such as Nathan Holland and Toni Martinez. I would have added Domingos Quina but he appears to have been locked away in a safe house with Manuel Lanzini until the transfer window has closed. Lanzini, Chiekhou Kouyate, Andy Carroll and Winston Reid will not feature due to injury, Arnautovic is suspended and Antonio is unlikely to be risked ahead of the relegation six-pointer at the weekend!
Cheltenham have an injury concern over forward Jerell Sellars but are otherwise at full strength.
Man in the Middle
Tonight’s referee is Oliver Langford from the West Midlands. Langford does most of his officiating in the Championship and can boast one previous encounter with the Hammers when he took control of the 4-1 victory at Bloomfield Road against Blackpool in February 2012. A match where he sent of Robert Green for denying a goal-scoring opportunity that saw Henri Lansbury take over in goal as there was no keeper on the bench.
It is highly unlikely that we will see a runaway victory tonight but the Hammers have to have enough class to get through this one. A victory but only by the odd goal.