West Ham enter the Carabao Cup fray this evening with a second round tie against League 2 Newport County at their Rodney Parade stadium. Arguably, the League Cup is the most winnable competition for teams outside of the rich six, but it remains a feat that has been beyond the Hammers during its 50-odd year history.
Many supporters would happily trade a few Premier League positions for a decent cup run but owners and coaches have tended to take a different view – unless you go all the way the financial reward is not high. Nevertheless, apart from those with a realistic shout at a top four finish (or those concurrently committed to European competition) it is difficult to understand why the competition would not be taken with utmost seriousness.
With a long history of embarrassing cup exits to lower league team under their belts, including the recent memory of an FA Cup exit to AFC Wimbledon last season, West Ham would be foolish to take tonight’s game lightly. In truth, the team fielded at Wimbledon should have easily been good enough to win the match and so attitude and proper preparation is equally important.
The most recent meeting with Newport County was one of those cup shocks when the Welsh side beat a John Lyall West Ham team that included Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire and Alvin Martin, That was a 1979 FA Cup third round tie at Newport’s old Somerton Park ground which Lyall regarded as one of his worst nights of his managerial career. The Hammers famously won the FA Cup in the following season while Newport went on to win the Welsh Cup in the same year. Both teams made it through to the Quarter Finals of the 1980/ 81 European Cup Winner’s Cup where they were each eliminated by the eventual finalists.
Things took a turn for the worse after that for Newport and they were forced to go out of business in 1989. The club was reformed and embarked on a nomadic existence around the lower leagues before regaining league status in 2010. Under current manager, Mike Flynn, they have recorded some notable cup upsets including wins over Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough and earning a creditable draw at Wembley against Tottenham, before losing in a replay. They are unbeaten in this season’s League 2 campaign and will go into tonight’s game with little to fear and nothing to lose.
This will be no easy ride for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. He may well want to rest a few who might be carrying knocks or try out a number of fringe or youth players but there is no room for complacency. Maybe it will be an opportunity for recent signings Albian Ajeti and Gonçalo Cardoso to play a part; or perhaps some of Ben Johnson, Conor Coventry and Nathan Holland will be included in the squad. Pellegrini cannot afford to make too many changes or take anything for granted. A committed, disciplined and professional performance is required if further embarrassment is to be avoided.
It will be a tough test. The TV executives obviously sensed the chance of an upset by selecting the tie for live broadcast. I can’t see there being many goals but am hoping that, in the end, West Ham’s extra class will ultimately prevail over Newport’s determination.