West Ham United are proudly still representing themselves in the League Cup competition this season with our opponents on Wednesday night being Spurs. But the age old question has to be asked; should we really go for the Capital One Cup?
Two issues ago I wrote about our crammed Christmas fixture list, which includes the cup tie with our London rivals. The timing of this match couldn’t be much worse. If you were to look for a short answer to this question at this stage, we’d probably jump the gun and say “sod the cup, we’re fighting a more important league battle”.
So we all watched the draw thinking that we’d love to get a so-called easy game and cruise to the next round. Ha, cruise? West Ham don’t do cruising. Instead we watched Spurs narrowly beat Hull on penalties followed by the quarter-final draw in which we were matched against them.
This brings up a whole new dilemma in the life of a fan, as we go from thinking we might not be too bothered about progressing to the semi-final to thinking that we really want to beat Tottenham…again. So far in this Premier League season, the game we have looked most comfortable in was against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, and in theory there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to replicate our victory.
If nothing else, we’re playing for pride – we don’t want to be humiliated by our neighbours, we want to keep the bragging rights for a bit longer. In the last issue of Blowing Bubbles, Julian DIcks declared his dislike of players and managers complaining of fatigue. I’d normally agree but I think around Christmas time the fixtures do pile up and with an unfortunately small squad, injuries and lack of fitness do play a big part.
Although it shouldn’t be something that we fall back on as an excuse, I think it would be valid for Big Sam to say that we’re focusing on the league. If we had to pick between either being in the Premier League or winning the League Cup, I think I speak for most fans in saying we’d like to stay in the top league. The Championship is fun and all, but financially it just isn’t an option. What does the League Cup have to offer that’s better than what’s in the Premier League?
That aside, if we won it, we surely wouldn’t complain. Even now, the word “semifinal” has a certain ring to it. We beat Burnley in the previous round of the cup in a much-cliched game of two halves. The first half display left little to the imagination, and the younger players on display did little to prove their future star quality. But Big Sam got his proverbial hairdryer out at half time and the second half showed how much effort we can put in when faced with being knocked out of a competition.
More to the point, it meant as much to the fans. It wasn’t a case of not being bothered if we didn’t progress, no, we wanted the win that night. I’m certain that the fans supporting us against Spurs will have the same attitude but intensified to match the derby atmosphere. Ok, so we’ve figured that it does mean something to the fans, even if it’s not the be all and end all, but what about the players?
I’m a big believer in confidence in football playing a big part. Does being semifinalists then maybe finalists in a cup bring an extra edge to players for the rest of the season? I guess we would have said that beating Tottenham so easily should have been a confidence booster and a platform to push on, but that didn’t really prove to be true. So it’s completely inconclusive as to whether cup progression will help or hinder. Excellent!
Win or not, there would be no suggestion of going into a quarter-final with the intention of losing, that’s just not in the nature of a sportsman. All right, we might not always look like we give 100 per cent but we can be certain that players will try their hardest on the night. Whether that’s good enough or not remains to be seen. Julian Dicks makes a good point; we’re not going to win the Premier League in the near future but we have a better chance of winning a league cup trophy.
I still think the expectancy of going for a place in the final is a big ask. I don’t think we should expect anything, and I certainly don’t think we as fans should be judging a season on a cup game, regardless of the final result. With a heavy heart, I predict a crash exit from the Capital One Cup on Wednesday but with a hopeful glint in my eye, I say let’s go for it anyway!