Close but no cigar; The League Cup continues to allude us

We’ve appeared in more League Cup semi finals than in the FA Cup but not lifted the trophy once

A shocking capitulation to Liverpool in the League Cup quarter-finals was the first disappointment in a season that promises so much. Alas the League Cup remains an unticked box in our honours column.

We have perhaps surprisingly appeared in more League Cup semi-finals (nine) than FA Cup semi-finals (seven). But are yet to win that wonderful three handled trophy. The League Cup was the brainchild of Football League secretary Alan Hardacre and first staged in the 1960/61 season.

Many leading clubs including Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United didn’t bother entering the competition. It would only be towards the end of the sixties that all league clubs were represented. Our first raid into the last four came in the 1963/64 season; but was obscured by the majesty of West Ham’s first FA Cup win.

Leyton Orient, Aston Villa and Swindon were beaten to set up a fifth round tie with Workington Town. For a change we lived up to their billing and trounced Town 6-0 featuring a hattrick from Johnny Byrne. The semi-final was a two leg affair against Leicester City.

The away leg saw us 4-1 down after 54 minutes. However goals from Geoff Hurst and Alan Sealey dragged us back into contention at 4-3. We were dominant in the return leg at Upton Park but denied by a brilliant Gordon Banks in goal. The damage was done at Filbert Street as a 2-0 defeat produced an aggregate score of 6-3.

Our next appearance in the semi-finals was in the 1965/66 season. Light work was made of lower league opposition en route to the final. Twenty five goals were scored in just eight games. A 10-3 aggregate victory over Cardiff in the semis sealed a slot against West Brom in the final.

A crowded schedule ultimately did for the Hammers. We took a narrow 2-1 lead into the second leg but were overwhelmed in the return as Albion won 4-0. In 1966/67 the League Cup had most of the big guns on board. Our run to the semi-finals accounted for Spurs, Arsenal and Leeds.

The last of these scalps was against a side that included Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles. We routed Leeds 7-0 with hattricks from Geoff Hurst and Johnny Sissons. However, we succumbed to our nemesis West Brom in the semi-finals.

We fell agonisingly short in 1972 as Stoke City provided the semi-final opposition. A penalty awarded in the last minute of the second leg would put us into the final. Geoff Hurst’s effort was saved by Gordon Banks and triggered two epic replays. Sadly, even Bobby Moore’s heroics as a substitute goalie couldn’t prevent a 3-2 defeat.

By 1981 the competition had fallen for the seductive charms of sponsorship as the Milk Marketing Board secured naming rights. It was a good year for the Hammers who were promoted as champions of the Second Division (second tier).

We also made it all the way to the Milk Cup Final as it was now called. A fantastic run was marked by victories over Spurs and Coventry in the semi-final. We acquitted ourselves superbly against a Liverpool side that included Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Graham Souness.

A hotly disputed Liverpool goal was cancelled out by Ray Stewart’s penalty. In the replay we went into the lead with a Paul Goddard header but was edged out by the odd goal in three. We also made it through to the last four in 1988/89. The run included a 5-0 win over Derby and more satisfyingly a 4-1 hammering of Liverpool.

Strangely, a meek surrender to Luton followed in the semi-finals. A 3-0 home defeat was marked by Allan McKnight’s performance in goal; the second leg extended Luton’s victory to 5-0 and a miserable end to the run. The same trick was repeated in 1989/90. A good draw had paved the way to a semi-final against Oldham Athletic; a winnable tie over two legs and also avoided Nottingham Forest.

Cue the brain fade as we lost 6-0 to the Latics in the first leg. A 3-0 win at Upton Park did little to ease the embarrassment. It was the second decade of the millennium before West Ham reached another semi-final.

In 2010/11 Avram Grant presided over a season that saw us relegated from the Premier League. The League Cup run was little more than a sticking plaster on a shambolic campaign. The real highlight was beating Manchester United 4-0 at a snow covered Upton Park.

A 4-3 aggregate defeat to Birmingham in the semi-final was a less significant result that season. Our most recent semi-final appearance was in 2013/14. A 9-0 aggregate defeat to Manchester City needs no further elaboration.

There is something fascinating and annoying about our record in League Cup semi-finals. Quality opposition are comfortably beaten in the early stages; yet we often collapse against moderate teams in the semi-finals. Fans might say that’s a text book definition of West Ham?

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