West Ham v Bolton: Hammers Breeze Into Round 4

West Ham march into the last 16 of the Carabao Cup

West Ham Bolton EFL Cup

I am old enough to remember the early days of the League Cup, currently the EFL Cup, and as a result of sponsorship known as the Carabao Cup this season. It has been a competition with a number of guises (mainly drink ones), the Milk Cup, the Littlewoods Cup, the Rumbelows Cup, the Coca Cola Cup, the Worthington Cup, The Carling Cup, and the Capital One Cup, and perhaps others that I have forgotten, but essentially the competition has remained unaltered since its inception, being open to the 92 clubs in the four divisions of the Football League.

The first Wembley final was in 1967, when third division Queens Park Rangers produced a comeback of Lazarus proportions against West Brom to win 3-2, after being two goals down at half-time. Prior to this the final was a two-legged affair. With effect from then, the winners gained a passport into Europe, initially the Fairs Cup, and now the Europa League, provided that they were in the top flight of English football, although that rule has since been relaxed.

Despite this, it continues to be perceived as a lower priority tournament than the more prestigious FA Cup, although it is surprising that many teams outside of the elite do not appear to take it more seriously with the carrot of Europe on offer to the winners, especially as it is perhaps the only realistic chance of qualifying.

West Ham’s first ever game in the competition was 57 years ago next Tuesday with a comfortable 3-1 win over Charlton. But in the next round we began a long history of being dumped out of the tournament by lower ranked teams when we lost 3-2 at Darlington, despite fielding a full strength team. It is a competition that we have never won and it is about time that we did.

So far this season the draw has been kind. In the last round we were drawn at home to Cheltenham, almost bottom of League Two, but of course had to play away from home as the stadium was not yet ready for football. A 2-0 win created the opportunity to progress further when we were handed another home draw, this time Bolton being the visitors. It is hard to believe but Bolton have made a worse start than ourselves, with two draws and six defeats leaving them rooted to the foot of the Championship. It was therefore a formality that we would move into the Fourth Round, or last 16, leaving us just two wins away from a two-legged semi-final appearance.

And a formality it was with an excellent commanding performance from an almost wholly changed team, including younger players being given their chance. Everyone played well, especially Arnautavic who played as if he owed the supporters something, and ran the show. Almost certainly I can see him filling in Lanzini’s position while our diminutive Argentinian remains injured. I hope the manager can see the same. And how good was it to see a centre back so comfortable on the ball with excellent distribution, as well as defending well, albeit against weak opposition. I wonder if Declan Rice will be given another chance as a starter, but this time in his natural position?

Ogbonna’s early goal was a boost and gave the side confidence from the start. Once Sakho had doubled the lead the game was over as a contest, and Masuaku’s thunderbolt at the end was the icing on the cake. Despite the impressive performances all over the pitch it is unlikely that more than two or three of the team will be in the starting line-up when Tottenham are our visitors next Saturday lunchtime.

In the meantime we move into the last sixteen of the competition hoping for another kind draw, which takes place at 10pm this evening. After the farce of the second round draw where John Salako confused the issue, and then the third round draw taking place in the early hours of the morning in China, I wonder what they have in store this time? Perhaps it could take place in a rocket orbiting the earth if they can overcome the gravity issue? Or even under water in Thailand? Anything that can boost the name of the sponsors is usually the order of the day.

Last Saturday we took part in one of the most uninspiring games in the Premier League when we came away from the Hawthorns with a goalless draw. My web colleague Geoff Hopkins wrote an excellent review of this game and I don’t propose to add anything further. Since then our manager is reported to have said that he is finding it difficult / it is challenging / he is struggling / he is finding it almost impossible to pair Carroll and Hernandez up front in the same team. Yes, the “big man / little man” combination has never worked in football has it! Come on, let’s make it work! Hernandez is a goalscorer of the highest calibre and we need him up front, and not cast aside out of his best position on the left wing. Surely it cannot be rocket science. Work on it and find a way to get the best out of both of them if you want them both in the side. Don’t just accept the situation. How long did it take to realise that Antonio was not a right back? We need to play to players’ strengths, and fit them into a workable formation.