EFL CUP: CHELSEA BROUGHT RIGHT BACK DOWN TO EARTH WITH 2-1 LOSS AT WEST HAM
On a night when missiles rained through the air and rival supporters were kept apart by police in riot gear, West Ham won the first London derby at their new home.
It should have been a night of unabashed celebration; for it was a third victory in a row for Slaven Bilic after a tough start to the first season away from Upton Park.
His team thoroughly deserved their EFL Cup win against Chelsea and have the dubious rewards of a quarter-final trip to Manchester United.
Bilic was rightly proud of the achievement and fought for the right to bask in it a little longer, rather than discuss events surrounding security and segregation.
Who can blame him? The West Ham has suffered this season but there have been signs of a breakthrough since the international break, last month.
Scratchy victories against Crystal Palace and Sunderland were followed by this, a fluent attacking performance, with traces of last season, and the result could have been more emphatic.
Cheikhou Kouyate headed West Ham into the lead and Edmilson Fernandes put them two goals up with his first goal for the club, early in the second-half, before they were forced to dig in to defend as Chelsea unleashed Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro from the bench in a late bid to rescue the tie.
Gary Cahill pulled one back with virtually the last kick of the game but it was too late for the visitors.
Antonio Conte had paid a heavy price for making seven changes to the team which impressed against Manchester United, four days earlier, and discovered the limitations of this squad.
Chelsea had won three without conceding a goal since Conte switched to his preferred back-three formation but he will know the squad is not built with such a system in mind and the imbalance was clear as he rested some of the regulars and gave others a much-needed run.
John Terry, injured at Swansea six weeks ago, was back in the centre of the defensive trio, flanked by David Luiz and Cahill, and it was Chelsea’s captain who was beaten in the air by Kouyate for the opener.
Mark Noble angled the ball from the West Ham left towards the edge of Chelsea’s penalty box where Kouyate climbed early, up above Terry and flashed a header inside the post.
It might have been more. Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell combined on the left to set up Dimitri Payet who thought he had been nudged from behind by N’Golo Kante as he prepared to shoot.
Referee Craig Pawson ignored Payet’s appeal for a foul as the ball spilled to Michail Antonio, and he dragged it wide with his left foot when he ought to have hit the target.
The first save of the game had been by Darren Randolph from N’Golo Kante but the rhythm of the game soon shifted. Chelsea were not the compact and efficient unit they were against United.
The wing backs, Ola Aina and Cesar Azpilicueta, both defenders by trade, were deep which allowed the home team to dominate midfield areas.
West Ham sliced Chelsea open with relative ease. Antonio rolled away from Luiz in an inside-left channel and found Lanzini who applied a disappointingly feeble finish with the outside of his right foot when the pass was begging to be smashed with his left foot.
Asmir Begovic flew to his right to deny Pedro Obiang on the half-volley from distance before a Chelsea flurry before the interval.
Michy Batshauyi was denied by Randolph and then skied a golden opportunity to equalise from a cross supplied by Oscar, who also went close in this spell of pressure.
But Fernandes burst the momentum when he made it 2-0, three minutes after the break.
Conte made a tweak to this back-three, moving Luiz into the centre with Terry left and Cahill right but they remained vulnerable.
Begovic saved from Payet before Noble worked to recycle possession and found Fernandes on the right, who cut inside and beat the ‘keeper with the help of a slight deflection from Terry’s heel.
Antonio close again before the Chelsea manager sent on Costa, Hazard and Pedro in a bid to rescue the tie. Batshuayi, Nathaniel Chalobah and Aina were the three to make way.
Within seconds of making his way onto the pitch, Hazard had been taken out by a fierce tackle by Noble. Welcome to the cup tie. West Ham were braced to defend their lead – and they had to defend because Conte’s team summoned a strong finish.
There was one penalty appeal for hand-ball and another for a trip by Winston Reid on Hazard. Neither were given by referee Pawson who took the view the visitors were falling over when they reached sight of goal.
Oscar flicked a chance into the side-netting but Bilic’s back-three of Reid, Kouyate and Angelo Ogbonna looked stronger and more resilient than Chelsea’s.
Willian pulled a chance wide after linking up with Costa on the break. Costa went close, six minutes from the end, clipping a shot over Randolph but wide.
Terry glanced a header wide from a free-kick by Willian before Cahill pounced in stoppage time when West Ham’s focus finally wilted and they failed to clear another Willian set-piece.
By this time, eyes were drifting towards the scuffling in the stands. Bilic said he had to remind Cresswell to keep his mind on the game.
The goal was too late to change the direction of the game. West Ham move into the last eight, and will face Manchester United.
More importantly for Bilic, they are back in the groove.