This Friday just past marked the return of the fourth round of the oldest and most prestigious domestic cup competition in football: The FA Cup! The first game of the round took place at The Emirates Stadium, an evening kick-off which saw hosts, Arsenal, unceremoniously dumped out of the competition by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s revitalised Red Devils, making it eight victories out of eight for the Baby Faced Assassin since taking over from Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager.
Any seasoned football fan will tell you that anything can happen in the cup. It’s one of footballs many cliche’s, yet so often over the years it’s been a proven truth. With the bigger clubs more frequently choosing to rest their better players in the cup competitions these days; David’s challenge to overcome the might of Goliath is made that tiny bit easier when the giant decides to enter the battlefield with one arm tied behind is back.
Despite being fully aware of a potential upset, as a West Ham United supporter, I went into Saturdays fourth round tie away at AFC Wimbledon with much positivity and optimism. Or at the very least, as much positivity and optimism a Hammers fan can muster. Having already faced The Wombles back in August in the League Cup at the Kingsmeadow stadium and come away with a 3-1 victory, I went into Saturdays fixture expecting another win.
West Ham United were absolutely dreadful in August having lost every game and sat bottom of the table. The Irons had made hard work of their first meeting between the two sides, going a goal behind only 2 minutes in before Wimbledon had a man sent off after 18 minutes. It then took until the 63rd minute for the Hammers to draw level before eventually emerging victorious .
Since that fixture, as a team, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have come along in leaps and bounds, claiming scalps from Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal as they’ve projected themselves from bottom of the Premier League to a comfortable 10th position whilst Wimbledon find themselves at the foot of League 1 having not won a game since Boxing Day and went into the fourth round fixture off the back of a home defeat to Fleetwood Town this Tuesday just past.
West Ham filled with hope
Going into the weekend I envisioned myself sitting down on Sunday, happy and content, to write about the magic of the FA Cup. However, after West Ham United’s 4-2 defeat to The Wombles I fear that the only magic I’ll feel in the near future will come from a Harry Potter re-watch. That absolute pathetic display from The Hammers left the team closer to Platform Nine and Three Quarters than it did the fifth round of the FA Cup. A wall was placed in front of the East London side and instead of smashing through it, Pellegrini’s men simply vanished in it’s presence. Shameful.
The manner of this defeat highlighted some huge concerns in personnel. Arthur Masuaku cannot defend to save his life. It’s that simple. Yes The Hammers were only facing bottom of League 1 Wimbledon, however, it’s been proven time and again that without somebody to cover behind him, Masuaku is about as defensively useful as a chocoloate teapot. Less so even, at the every least you can always eat a chocolate tea pot.
Only last season the man played very high up the field and gave fullbacks a torrid time. This season Masuaku plays as if he suffers from altitude sickness as he barely makes it to the halfway line. If a fullback can’t attack or defend, they’re nothing more than a glamorised ball boy, and with that being said, I’ve seen ball boys surrender possession less easily than Masuaku did against Wimbledon.
Aaron Cresswell need not worry about his place in the team as when Arthur does get a rare run out, it only ensures that ex Ipswich man is a guaranteed starter for the Hammers next fixture.
If one decided to search the pockets of Wimbledon centre back pairing Terell Thomas and Adedeji Oshilaja you’d probably find a phone, a wallet and Andy Carroll. Displaying as much presence as a three foot doorman, the Geordie was hauled off at half time. As a West Ham fan I’ve reached the point where I just want this man exiled from my club for good.
There are those that believe the ex Newcastle and Liverpool star can still make a good Plan B. What use is a Plan B that has spent over two thirds of his league games in nearly seven years at the club in the treatment room? Even during the rare times Carroll has been fit in recent seasons, he has proved largely ineffective. Last season his tally of 3 Premier League goals came against Stoke and West Brom, both of which went on to be relegated.
This season the Geordie hasn’t scored in 9 Premier League appearances and his only goal of the season so far came in the dying minutes of the third round of the FA Cup at home to Championship outfit; Birmingham City. Believe me, there is still a place in the game for physical strikers, yet Andy Carroll couldn’t even bully the worst of League 2. No one can still honestly tell me that he’s gonna have a better time against quality proven Premier League centre backs.
What really plagues my mind with worry is how on earth West Ham United are going to get shot of the man from Tyneside? On £90,000 per week, Carroll’s wages are even loftier than he is and I find it unlikely that anyone that isn’t desperate would want to take a gamble on him.
I feel the only place he could possibly go would be back to boyhood club, Newcastle, but under their current regime, I doubt The Magpies would pay his wages unless the Geordie boy was willing to take a huge pay cut. A transfer fee would also prove to be tough to conjure up. If I was Mike Ashley I wouldn’t want to trade a Sports Direct mug for Carroll’s services, much less a huge sum of Great British pounds.
Following the embarrassing defeat, Manuel Pellegrini stated that he was ashamed of the performance by his players. Though the players had indeed left much to be ashamed of on the pitch, I feel like the Chilean needs to take long, hard look in mirror and accept responsibility for his part in this awful showing.
Barring a disaster or a huge over achievement, from this point, West Ham United will more than likely finish between seventh and thirteenth. Unless The Irons do finish seventh and claim a Europa League spot, the rest of the season is nothing other than a formality. The FA Cup had to be the priority. It simply leaves me dumbfounded that Premier League teams sitting comfortably in mid-table don’t start their best players in both cup competitions.
One could argue that West Ham should not have to field their best eleven to come away with victory over Wimbledon and that they will face tough opposition against Wolves on Tuesday night and that is a fair point, however West Ham would still have the best part of half a season to focus on finishing ahead of Wolves. A defeat to Wolves doesn’t kill The Hammers season, if anything, the Wimbledon loss did. Teams do not get shots at redemption in cup games. Defeat is death.
There is simply no excuse for the likes of star men Anderson and Rice not to have been started by Pellegrini. Add that to the fact that the hugely impressive Fabianski did not feature between the sticks, as well as the absence of Cresswell and Zabaleta, it only makes the game more difficult than it needs to be.
Had they started, the manager might have been bringing Anderson off at half time due to a comfortable lead instead of sending him on with 45 minutes left to chase the game. I’ll also say this, despite the managers three changes, his half time team talk could not have been that memorable. Wimbledon scored their third and effectively winning goal 40 seconds into the second half. Embarrassing.
Any West Ham fans still finishing their beers at the start of the second half could easily be forgiven if they stayed put for the next 45 minutes in order to get more drinks. No Sunday hangover could feels awful as that humbling, harrowing, humiliating defeat at the hands of the Wombles who go onto face West Ham United’s lions sized enemy residing in a South London den.
The only true big teams still left in the FA Cup are Manchester City, United and Chelsea. With the news that Chelsea and Manchester United are set to face each other in the fifth round, every other team, regardless of their league position, should be entering the next phase of the tournament believing that this year could be their year.
Not West Ham United though, a poorly selected team produced an even poorer result. Once again, just the same as every year since Sir Trevor Brooking nodded the winner against Arsenal in 1980, West Ham United’s 2019 FA Cup dream has faded and died.