West Ham 2 v 1 Chelsea

A time for reflection on the EFL Cup victory over Chelsea.

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1. Pedro Obiang – All season I have been writing about the need for Pedro Obiang to be one of the first names on the West Ham team sheet. Once again he demonstrated in the Chelsea game his importance to the team. We need a defensive midfielder who can tackle, pass, and show athleticism to get around the pitch. Players like this are vital in the modern game. To me he plays like Patrick Vieira did for Arsenal. He hasn’t yet showed an ability to score goals, but that is not his function in the team. He did, however, hit a tremendous shot from distance that could have been a goal.

The season began with Nordtveit in this role, but to me he doesn’t appear to have the all-round capabilities of Obiang. Pedro has now been with us for more than a year and I don’t believe he has been given an extended run to show his capabilities. And, despite knowing that statistics can be used to prove anything you want them to, I’ll now throw in one that I believe proves his value. In the last 31 Premier League and FA Cup games where he has been involved either as a starter, or as a substitute, we have lost just once. That’s right, one defeat in 31 games, and he only played for 45 minutes in the game that we lost. There is not another player at the club with this record. I don’t believe that it is any coincidence that our recent resurgence has come about partly because Pedro Obiang has been playing.

2. Edimilson Fernandes – Here we have a young player that I believe that the club bought with an eye to the future. But we must not underestimate his experience gained in Switzerland before he joined us. He was a regular as a teenager, and played a number of key games in European competition where he demonstrated his skills. It is early days I know, but to me he has already shown his versatility by playing in different positions. He is also athletic, appears to have a good temperament, can tackle, has good distribution, and showed that he knows where the goal is. I hope he is given an extended run, because I believe we may have unearthed an absolute gem. He seems to me to be a player ideally suited to the Premier League, and once again we look a better side with him in the team.

3. Mark Noble – A lot of people were writing off our captain following his early performances this season. To an extent I can understand this. Despite his many attributes, his lack of pace can sometimes let him down. And in some ways, our game seems more pedestrian when he is playing. However, we can get away this this if there are players with pace around him such as Obiang, Fernandes and Kouyate for example. I believe that the Chelsea game was his best so far in this campaign, and he orchestrated, and helped to dominate, the middle of the pitch. He did provide both of the assists, and can still be an important player in the team. I’m not writing him off yet.

4. Michail Antonio – Once again he has showed his versatility by playing in an unfamiliar position, and although he still has plenty to learn, we have to remember he has only really been playing top flight football for a year now. With his pace and movement he ran the Chelsea defence, and in particular, John Terry, ragged. He is definitely a better player when we don’t rely on him for his defensive capabilities, and I believe he can become a really top class forward. He has already shown his goal scoring ability, especially in the air, and with more composure can perhaps learn to score more goals with his feet.

5. Cheikou Kouyate – Once again here we have a player who has not yet shown this season the same form that he demonstrated in the last one. Nevertheless our new formation, which I assume we will continue to play, at least for the time being while it seems to be working, has shown him heading back towards his best. And not many players can score a powerful headed goal from the edge of the area such as the one that gave us the important early lead in the game.

6. The crowd trouble – For the life of me I cannot understand the mentality of individuals who support any football team, that show such hatred towards opposition fans, that they need to throw coins and seats at them with the sole purpose of causing injury. Obviously there are still issues to sort out in respect of the stadium safety issues, but if you look at some of the still photographs of the faces of some of the people involved, purporting to be both West Ham and Chelsea fans, you can see just why they are there, namely to cause trouble. There is no place for them, and if we do have a season ticket waiting list of over 50,000, as Ms Brady suggests, then anyone causing trouble must be identified, banned and face criminal proceedings. There are so many cameras that focus on the crowd this must be possible. If this continues then we will face unpalatable consequences from the authorities. An urgent solution to the problem must be found.

7. The players I haven’t yet mentioned – It is unusual to be approaching the end of an article about a famous victory without mentioning Payet, Lanzini, Cresswell, Reid and Ogbonna. The first three of these are beginning to show a wonderful understanding with quick incisive passing, movement off the ball, and marvellous skill. Reid and Ogbonna have never entirely convinced me as a partnership, although I can see the individual merits of both, and perhaps the addition of Kouyate alongside them will bring out the best in both of them. And finally Randolph in goal has many admirable qualities and will continue to push Adrian, and keep him on his toes.

8. Chelsea – I fail to understand why football managers rest key players and leave them on the bench, only to bring them on when a game may already be lost (e.g. Hazard, Costa). Surely put them on from the start to try to get into a winning position, and then perhaps take them off if the poor tired things are really in such need of a rest.

9. And Finally – We are now in the last eight of a major competition. Our season appears to be on the up. If we play as we did in this game then we can be a match for most teams. Let’s hope it continues.

Matchday: Hammers versus Stanley

Sliding doors. This train terminates at Stratford.

EFL CupWe asked 100 West Ham fans to “Name a Famous Stanley”. Top misty-eyed answer was the Lord Stanley in Plaistow one of the favourite pre-match watering holes from the old Boleyn Ground days. Second was the retractable blade knife that might have been taken to a match in the 70’s and in third place was former Socceroo Skippy Stan Lazaridis. The Stanley from Accrington were in a disappointing sixth place.

League Two Accrington Stanley find themselves in the 3rd round of the League Cup for the very first time. Their second round victory over Burnley being the first time that they have ever beaten a team from the top tier. West Ham’s last defeat to a fourth tier team was a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in 2011. Accrington manager, John Coleman, has vowed to come to the London Stadium to attack and so we could well be in for an interesting evening. They are not even bringing a bus let alone parking it.

“It will be a good side whoever we play as they are Premier League players. We will not be going there to park the bus, we will be going there to attack and score goals and if that means we get beat 7-0 so be it.”

– John Coleman

Our approach will be interesting and there are different schools of thought on the distraction or otherwise of cup competitions. The Avram Grant team had impressive runs in both League and FA Cup but remained woeful in the League. On other occasions a good cup win has galvanised League form. A good many supporters would sacrifice several League placings for a decent cup run (especially if it leads to a day out at Wembley) provided that the spectre of relegation is avoided. It is going back a long way but a 6-0 League Cup pounding of Tranmere in 1974, when we were bottom of the table, prompted a revival in fortunes that ended with FA Cup success against Fulham. Tonight is maybe a ‘sliding doors’ moment for us.

“We have to do it. Starting from today we have three mega games, three cup finals before the next international break. This game is a good opportunity for us, it’s an interesting competition for us. It’s good to have a game tonight.”

– Slaven Bilic

Head to Head

We have never played against tonight’s opposition before and so I will use the opportunity to repeat my favourite Accrington Stanley related story. Legendary goalkeeper Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke was in the Bradford City team when Accrington Stanley visited Bradford for an FA Cup tie in February 1907. It was discovered just before kick-off that Foulke, who stood 6ft 3in and weighed in at 22 stone, was wearing a jersey that clashed with the red shirts of Stanley. After a fruitless search of the ground for a suitably large replacement Foulke used a sheet borrowed from a neighbouring house to cover the offending top. The game ended with a Bradford victory by the only goal and with Foulke barely called into action his makeshift attire was as pristine as it had been at kickoff. Thus, the origin of the phrase “keeping a clean sheet”. What are the chances of one of these today?

Team News

None of the long term injured are ready for action yet. In the circumstances I would anticipate a reasonably strong side that would include West Ham debuts for Alvaro Arbeloa and Edimilson Fernandes. I would also like to see Ashley Fletcher and Pedro Obiang given starting positions.

My predicted starting eleven:

Randolph
Arbeloa  Ogbonna  Oxford  Masuaku
Feghouli  Obiang  Fernandes  Tore
Antonio  Fletcher

Obviously, I know nothing about the likely Accrington line-up other than the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of football sees players from France, Benin and St Lucia feature in the League Two side’s squad.

Man in the Middle

Tonight’s referee is Stephen Martin from Staffordshire, a member of the Select Group 2 Refs who can usually be found blowing his whistle in Championship games. If we asked 100 West Ham fans to ‘Name a famous Steve Martin’ answering with the referee’s name would no doubt get you an “Eh-uhh”!

Can We Win The EFL Cup?

Can this be the first silverware since the 1999 Intertoto glory?

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We began the season in our new stadium with high hopes following the relative success of our final season at Upton Park. Our seventh-placed finish in the Premier League gave us qualification for the UEFA Europa League, which meant that we were in with a theoretical chance in four trophies this season. I use the word theoretical as opposed to realistic, although we have to remember that Leicester, at 5000-1, were only considered to have a notional chance of winning the Premier League, and we all know what happened.

We were eliminated from the Europa League earlier than we would have hoped, or expected, and even the world’s biggest West Ham optimist would have to concede, that with just five Premier League games completed, we will not overhaul a Manchester City team who already have a 12 point lead over us in the league competition, as we sit in the relegation zone.

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. But bearing in mind that our last FA Cup win was in 1980, and the fact that we have never won the League Cup, you realise that we haven’t done as well perhaps as we should have done.

This is my 59th season of watching the club, and our 50th in the top flight. We should perhaps have won more competitions than we have. But this is another season, so perhaps this will be the one. The FA Cup can be won by winning just six games of football. But the EFL Cup requires even less! The seven English teams who qualified for European competition this season, including ourselves, received byes into the third round of the League Cup, which in the absence of a sponsor is now called the EFL Cup. Those of you who have been around as long as I have will remember some of the sponsors of this competition, such as the Milk Marketing Board, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca-Cola, Worthington, Carling, and Capital One.

This effectively means that you can win this trophy by winning just five games of football. You could have a magnificent defence that keeps clean sheets and get through on penalties without actually winning any games at all, but that is one winning route I can’t see us taking! So, just win five games of football. Easy isn’t it! Surely we can manage that. To be handed a draw at home to Accrington Stanley of League Two should, in theory, be a straightforward passage into the last 16, but I have supported the club for long enough to know that this is not the case!

I can remember so many banana skins in this competition with defeats to Darlington, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Coventry (more than once), Forest (at least four times!), Stockport (twice), Fulham, QPR, Swindon, Barnsley, Luton, Oldham, Oxford, Norwich, Crewe, Bolton (three times), Northampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading, Chesterfield, Birmingham, Aldershot, Wigan, and Sheffield United. The list is very long, and to coin a phrase popular with our manager at the moment, embarrassing!

Of course, although we have never won the competition we have come close, losing a two-legged final to West Brom in 1966 (this was the very last final decided over two legs), and to Liverpool in 1981 after a replay. We have also lost in two-legged semi-finals too, to Leicester in 1964, West Brom in 1967, Stoke in 1972 (4 epic games), Luton in 1989, Oldham in 1990, Birmingham in 2011, and the 9-0 drubbing by Manchester City in 2014.

Traditionally, throughout history, cup semi-finals have often been very tight affairs. But if you believe that our recent defensive performances are just a current phenomenon, you may like to know that in those seven two-legged semi-finals spread over fifty years we conceded 41 goals in 16 ties (6, 6, 5, 5, 6, 4, 9)!

When we beat Accrington Stanley (OK I’ll say if), then we will be in the round of 16. As we begin round three there are 16 Premier League teams left in the competition, with four all top-flight ties, meaning that at least that many will be going out. We are currently the seventh or eighth favourites to land the trophy (you can get odds of between 14/1 and 20/1), so the bookmakers fancy our chances more than some teams higher than us in the Premier League. I guess our home draw to a league 2 side in this round has something to do with that.

So can we win the EFL Cup? History tells you “no”. Our opening games this season tell you “no”. I just hope we take it seriously. We can win this trophy by winning just five games of football. Four wins guarantees a day out at Wembley, and a win there ensures European football next season. Let’s be honest, this is the simplest route into Europe.