What did you expect? Were we really in the EFL (Carabao) Cup to try and win it? I don’t think so. I know that these are early days, but Everton have made a blistering start to the season and are one of only four clubs on maximum points, together with Leicester, Liverpool, and Villa. They have won their away league games at Tottenham and Palace, and demolished West Brom at home. Their team selection indicated that they meant business. Our team selection, largely a reserve side, showed that we wanted to give a run-out to the fringe players who are currently not in the starting eleven in Premier League games. And while they looked impressive in the earlier rounds against lower league opposition, this time around they were found out. Even with our strongest team this would have been a tough ask to progress to the next round. But as soon as I saw the team selections I feared the worst. Everton (first team) v West Ham (reserves) – not really a contest. And so it proved. So once again one of the “winnable” competitions passes us by. There’s always the FA Cup of course. But will that take precedence over maintaining our Premier League status? Of course not.
Disappointed as I was with our performance at Everton, the opposite is true regarding the way we put Wolves to the sword. Considering the strength of the opposition this was most definitely one of our best performances in a long time, with the whole team shining. Defensively we looked very sound, and not many teams put four goals past Wolves. In the whole of last season only Everton (3) and Chelsea (5) managed to score more than twice in a game against them. Both those games were in the month of September, so perhaps we played them at the right time, in the month when they are at their weakest? The age-old argument – did we thrash them because we were so good or because they were poor? Possibly a bit of both, but I did enjoy the entertainment last Sunday evening.
This weekend we face Leicester who sit proudly at the top of the pile with three wins out of three in the league, scoring 12 goals in the process, and conceding 4. But Arsenal eliminated them from the EFL Cup. Can we take the form from the Wolves game into this fixture? We never know with our team of course.
Historically, just as with Wolves, we have a positive record against the Foxes, beating them in more competitive fixtures than they have beaten us. That record is largely enhanced by our results against them in the 1990s, when in 14 league games spread over the top two divisions, we won 12, drew 1, and lost only once. My memory of games against them is that they were fixtures that always seemed to have a lot of goals. On Boxing Day in 1967, we were 2-0 down in the first few minutes, but fought back to win 4-2 with a hat-trick from Brian Dear. It could have been many more but for a sparkling performance from the Leicester keeper (a 17 year old Peter Shilton who had ousted Gordon Banks from their team). Four days later in the return fixture we won 4-2 again at Filbert Street, and Brian Dear scored twice in this game too. And when we beat Leicester 4-0 the following season I saw the best goal that I have ever seen live when Martin Peters blasted a volley into the roof of the net after a pitch length move started by Bobby Ferguson, our keeper.
When he was in a rich vein of form Brian Dear took some stopping. In a two month period from mid-December to mid-February that season he found the net 11 times. In 1964-65 he didn’t play a single game until the middle of March, but in the final 15 games of that season he scored 14 goals, including 5 in 20 minutes in a game I watched on Good Friday against West Brom. It earned him a place in the team for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the winning final in the successful European Cup Winners Cup run, where he scored four goals in those five games.
Over a course of several seasons in the 1960s Brian could not get a regular place in the side, but that may have been for reasons other than footballing and goalscoring ability. He only played 82 times for the club but averaged almost a goal in every other game, a better goals per game ratio than noted goalscorers such as Cottee, McAvennie, and Pop Robson. Loan spells away from West Ham in the late sixties were followed by a return to the club, but he never played for the Hammers again after the 4-0 defeat at Blackpool in the third round of the FA Cup, when he was one of the players involved in the notorious late-night drinking incident on the eve of the game. But what a fabulous finisher he was! We could do with a goalscorer with that kind of successful goals per game ratio now.
But enough of the Brian Dear nostalgia, and back to this game. The three teams that we will have played this week, Wolves, Everton and Leicester, are probably the biggest challengers to the elite six teams that have dominated the Premier League for some years now. Of course Leicester themselves were the 5000-1 winners not so long ago, after narrowly escaping relegation the season before with a great escape similar to our own a few years earlier, and are now consistently a top half of the table side. Brendan Rogers seems to have got the best out of Jamie Vardy, and last season he was the top Premier League goalscorer. He also notched a hat-trick against Manchester City last weekend, not the first time he has achieved that against City, and is already on five goals for the season after just three games. But four of those goals have come from penalty kicks! I wonder how many games will elapse this season before West Ham are even awarded four penalties?
I see that we have a new right back! He’s Tomas Soucek’s Czech mate Vladimir Coufal from Slavia Prague. If he’s anywhere near as good a signing as Soucek then we’ll all be delighted. On the face of it he looks to be an absolute bargain. He looks to have all the right credentials so I’ll look forward to seeing him in the team. Does he have to spend time in quarantine first?
Of course with the start they’ve made, Leicester are odds on favourites to make it four wins out of four and remain at the top of the Premier League table. But I have faith in our team (the one that played Wolves anyway!) and I reckon we’ll spoil their party. 2-2 for me. What are the chances?
When this round of games is over, we will have our first international break of the season. Of course we all need a break after all the games we’ve played this season! Personally I don’t have the same interest in international football these days and hate these interruptions to the domestic campaign that appear so regularly so early on in the season. And in the current climate is it a good idea in this year in particular for players to be flying off all over the world in light of the pandemic? I’m not so sure.