Tales of the Unexpected: Wolves Sent Packing And A Route To An EFL Cup Quarter Final

West Ham face Everton in EFL Cup action to see which club has the strongest second string. Who will triumph in this midweek ‘bench test’ to claim a quarter final berth?

Just when we thought that football’s ability to surprise was a thing of the past, West Ham shrugged off the menacing dark clouds surrounding the London Stadium to register a remarkable and highly impressive victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Full credit goes to the players and manager(s) for lifting the gloom (at least for now) in the face of overwhelming adversity – what a difference a win makes!

As ever, there was going to be the usual debate. Was the win down to an excellent West Ham performance or a poor Wolves one? It’s impossible to answer but, for me, despite a number of fine individual performances, every West Ham player played their part in a superb effort. It was arguably the best we have seen for some years, scoring four times, preventing Wolves from getting into their stride playing and recording a rare clean sheet. Top half of the table and with a positive goal difference.  From despondency to ecstasy in 90 short minutes – the erratic pursuit that is football supportership!

While we must wait until the weekend to learn whether it was the Wolves or the Newcastle performance that was the blip on the radar, we first have an EFL away tie with Everton to deal with. For the winner, it will be a place in the final eight, where the prospect of silverware suddenly becomes a little more realistic. A trip to an empty Wembley would be very West Ham. Both managers will be wanting to win tonight, but without risking fitness or injuries in this hectic schedule.

The Toffees have enjoyed a flawless start to the Premier League season and will be hoping to sit proudly on top of the pile come Saturday evening. In the previous round of this competition (against Fleetwood) Ancelotti selected five players who also started in the subsequent league game at Palace, including Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin. By comparison, Fabian Balbuena was the only Hammer who started against both Hull and Wolves.

How them might they approach tonight’s game? For the Hammers, further run-outs are probable for the likes of Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass – plus we might also see one of Mark Noble or Jack Wilshere given an outing. More experience will be needed in defence, though, should Everton decide field their big guns once again. A much sterner test than that posed by Charlton or Hull.

With the game being played at a Premier League ground, it will come under the auspices of the dreaded VAR, and its ludicrous handball interpretations. Following the criticism received during its first year of operation, it was difficult to see how VAR could be made even worse, but somehow they have managed it. Rulings on handballs, offsides and penalties are now as much of a lottery (and as unfathomable) as offside decisions in rugby. Too many loose interpretations and all seemingly designed to help Manchester United, even after the game is finished. The next step might be setting up a VAR Cold Case Unit to investigate historic handball decisions against the Red Devils – any incidents resulting in the next match against offending opponents kicking off with a United penalty.

We must give credit where it’s due, so well done to Martin Atkinson for allowing Pablo Fornals quickly taken free kick on Sunday to stand in the lead up to the opening goal. A good example of advantage well played. On the other hand, I don’t understand why Tomas Soucek’s header was chalked up as an own goal. Surely, some mistake there!

Days go by and the transfer window deadline moves ever closer, and still it is all talk and no action. By now, we must have reached page 3 or 4 of the transfer target list. Even if the manager finds a players he wants, who is happy to come to east London, there is plenty of scope for the Board to scupper the deal by insisting on long, drawn out payment conditions – no deposit and nothing to pay for three years, as if they were buying a sofa.

Back to tonight’s game and it is very difficult to call without knowing the relative line-up strengths – who will take the gamble and who has the strongest second string to call upon. Goodison Park has never been a happy hunting ground, although West Ham have managed two wins from the last five visits.

The teams have met twice before in the League Cup, with Everton winning on both occasions – 2-0 at Goodison in a 1983 4th round replay; and 2-1 at the Boleyn in a 5th round tie in 2007. There will, of course, have to be a result tonight and maybe it will end up with a penalty shoot-out, just as it did in the memorable FA Cup tie in 2015. I wonder what Randolph is like from the spot?

After tonight the EFL Cup will take a break, returning in the week commencing 21 December for the quarter final ties. Will the name of West Ham United be unexpectedly in that hat?

Going Through The Motions: West Ham Plot Carabao Cup Exit

Is it right to have a definition of Meaningless in the dictionary? If so, it could be tonight’s EFL game at the London Stadium.

“Name something that is completely pointless” asks host, Les Dennis, in an episode of Family Fortune’s Always Hiding. Of one hundred people surveyed, the second most popular answer is “West Ham after their first seven Premier League games of the season.” Top answer, though, is tonight’s 2nd round EFL cup game against Charlton Athletic – played in an empty stadium, where any pretence of winning is a distant second to damage limitation and the need to fulfil contractual obligations.  In a congested and compressed season, it is a puzzle that the competition is actually going ahead.

In recent years successive of West Ham managers have, for whatever reasons, failed to treat the competition seriously – and even when we did, being on the wrong end of a lower league giant-killing was not unheard of. It is a footballing conundrum. The League Cup is surely the easiest of the three major trophies to win for the Premier League also-rans – yet many make no real effort to compete. While in the past twenty years, the names of Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea have all been etched onto the not so famous trophy, risk averse managers continue to consider giving it a go as a distraction from the real business of not being relegated. It’s enough to make you wonder what the point of following football is?

In a further downgrade to the League Cup’s  status, this season’s winners no longer qualify for the Europa League, but will instead have to make do with the unimaginatively named third-tier Europa Conference League – an Auto Windscreens/ Sinod Cup affair designed to prevent smaller clubs and countries clogging up the more illustrious televised competitions.

This evening’s match provides the opportunity for our former tenants from south-east London to inflict an early round embarrassing defeat on the Hammers. Although newly relegated to League 1, manager and ex- Hammer, Lee Bowyer, will be confident his side can pull off an apparent upset. That no-one would be particularly surprised, or even really care, is a sad reflection of where we find ourselves.  After all, there is plenty of transfer speculation and the excitement of a potential US consortium takeover to tweet about.

Tonight will see the fourth meeting between the two clubs in the 61 year history of the League Cup, an exchange in which West Ham boast a 100% success rate. For the record, these were: 3-1 in 1960 (Moore, Dick, Musgrove); 1-0 in 1976 (Alan Taylor) and 2-1 in 1980 (Cross 2). That win in 1980 came in a run that took the Hammers all the way to their last major final appearance, where they lost to Liverpool in a replay in April 1981.

Despite never having won the competition, there are two West Ham related entries in the League Cup record books. The first, a 10-0 win over Bury in 1983 which stands as the biggest ever winning margin (equalled by Liverpool v Fulham in 1986) and notable in that so impressive was the performance of the Bury centre-half (Paul Hilton) that he was subsequently signed for the Hammers by John Lyall. The second, Geoff Hurst’s career total of 50 League Cup goals which remains a competition record (shared with Ian Rush), although some of Hurst’s goals were scored after he had moved to Stoke. An extra side-note is that Rush’s first League Cup appearance for Liverpool was in that 1981 final replay, although he failed to score on that occasion.

It is quite difficult to imagine what would represent a weakened West Ham side these days  – one that doesn’t include Rice, Soucek, Bowen and Antonio I suppose. Otherwise we might not be able to tell the difference. Perhaps we will be surprised, who knows? I will probably check the score in the morning paper.