Mark Noble’s suspension could give opportunity to youngsters

Mark Noble

It seems as though West Ham’s squad is getting thinner by the week. There have been numerous absentees in recent times, with Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Arnautovic among the most recent players to miss matches through injury. The latest man to become unavailable to Manuel Pellegrini is Mark Noble, though that is due to suspension rather than injury.

In the 38th minute of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Leicester City, the Hammers’ captain was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Wilfried Ndidi. This means he’ll miss three matches: tonight’s Carabao Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur, followed by league fixtures against Burnley and Huddersfield Town.

This opens up a place in the team for somebody to fill, however the usual suspects aren’t available. In the midfield area alone Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere, Carlos Sanchez and Pedro Obiang are all injured. Therefore, it seems as though either Conor Coventry or Joe Powell could play alongside Robert Snodgrass and fellow academy graduate Declan Rice in West Ham’s midfield three during his absence. Though there is a chance that Obiang will be available against Tottenham and Wilshere could return before the skipper’s ban ends.

Having come through the academy, both 18-year-old Coventry and Powell, who turned 20 yesterday, have only represented West Ham’s first team once, coming on as substitutes during the 8-0 win against Macclesfield Town, which set up tonight’s tie against Tottenham. Republic of Ireland U19 international and Dylan Tombides Award winner Coventry came on at half time and gave an assured performance. Powell replaced Michail Antonio in the 61st minute and provided Grady Diangana (who was also a debutant and has now earned his place in the first team) with two assists.

Another alternative could be Reece Oxford, who has been playing his football with the club’s Under 23s this season. Having impressed on his debut against Arsenal as a 16-year-old in 2015, there were high expectations attached to his name. Since then he has represented the club just 16 more times though, having loan spells with Reading and Borussia Monchengladbach. He is naturally a centre back, but having played in midfield, this could be his best chance of getting back into the first team fold under Pellegrini.

If one of the trio are to be called upon to start matches, tonight’s Carabao Cup tie could be the perfect way to introduce them. There is less pressure on them than in the league, while the club’s rivalry with the opposition and the chance to get a step closer to getting silverware ensures it still holds importance for everyone involved with the club.

Alongside this, there is a chance that Mauricio Pochettino will field a changed side. Tottenham faced Manchester City on Monday and following tonight’s match will play Wolverhampton Wanderers in the league and a must win Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven; all within nine days of Monday’s loss. The Argentinian will be desperate to get a trophy –having failed to do so during his Totenham tenure to date- and so will likely field as strong a side as possible, as was shown by his team selection against Watford in the last round. However, his hand may be forced by the build up of fixtures.

Youngsters Rice and Diangana have both thrived under the tutelage of Pellegrini in recent times, so the Chilean has already shown he is willing to put his faith in youth- even if injuries have contributed to some of the opportunities he’s given. With the number of absentees in midfield, either Coventry, Powell or Oxford could be the next academy player to be given a first team start.

 

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Carabao Cup helping to bring feel-good factor to the London Stadium

London Stadium

Many in England scoff at the Carabao Cup. A competition sponsored by an energy drink which is hardly ever actually seen in shops, with a blooper in pretty much every draw, the competition is a laughing stock to some. It’s one of them things in football where you want to win it if you’re in the competition, but most people aren’t that fussed when they’re knocked out of the ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’.

West Ham are still in the cup and having not won silverware for years they would absolutely love to win it. Their manager would too, as Manuel Pellegrini has openly expressed his desire to do well in the competition which he won twice during his time with Manchester City. However, this year the Carabao Cup has arguably meant more than silverware for the Hammers, as it has provided a feel good factor at the London Stadium which surely played its part in the positive recent results.

Yes, the two games so far have been against AFC Wimbledon and Macclesfield Town, from League One and League Two respectively, but that doesn’t matter. This competition has undoubtedly helped the Hammers settle into a season which has seen plenty of change regarding both the playing and managerial staff.

The match away at Kingsmeadow saw West Ham pick up their first competitive victory of the season with a 3-1 win. It wasn’t the greatest performance but it afforded Pellegrini a sigh of relief which the league hadn’t provided him by that point. Having struggled against Arsenal on his debut, Issa Diop put in a commendable performance, scoring a brilliant goal from range. Chicharito was handed a rare moment of joy as his shot in the dying moments crept into the net.

Having seen form pick up after that result, with a win against Everton and draw at home to Chelsea in the league, the Macclesfield match was an opportunity to keep the feel-good factor at the London Stadium. That was certainly achieved. After enduring tough starts to life in East London Ryan Fredericks and Lucas Perez both got their first goals in claret and blue. Robert Snodgrass continued the rejuvenation of his West Ham career as he got his first ever West Ham goals (as well as two assists).

It was also a brilliant evening for the academy: Grady Diangana made his debut, scored two goals and secured the man of the match award, Declan Rice ran the midfield when he came on for the injured Carlos Sanchez, Conor Coventry looked comfortable in the middle of the park when he came on for his debut and Joe Powell, another debutant, got two assists. Also, let’s be honest, it’s not very often we’ll see West Ham win 8-0, even if it is against the team sitting at the bottom of League Two.

As the draw for the next round approaches following today’s 3-1 win against Manchester United, West Ham’s supporters should watch on with excitement. It may not have given the club any glamour matches so far, but the Carabao Cup has undoubtedly contributed to the positivity that currently surrounds the London Stadium. Especially following the team’s upturn in form, this competition offers the Hammers a chance to inject further excitement into their season, not to mention a chance of silverware and a place in the Europa League. That’s not something to be laughed at.

 

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Diangana’s dream debut

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It’s safe to say West Ham enjoyed last night. The Hammers compounded more misery on Macclesfield Town –who sit bottom of League 2- with an 8-0 defeat. There were plenty of highlights for the men in claret and blue: Robert Snodgrass scored his first ever West Ham goals, Ryan Fredericks and Lucas Perez bagged for the first time since joining in the summer, while Conor Coventry and Joe Powell came off the bench to make their first team debuts with the latter getting two assists. However, the biggest celebrations of the night were reserved for 20-year-old Grady Diangana. The winger started the match, making his first team debut, looked incredibly bright throughout and marked a brilliant performance with two well taken goals and the man of the match award.

Prior to last night’s game there will have been many Hammers fans who hadn’t heard of Diangana. He went about his work quickly in this match though, ensuring people won’t forget his name in a hurry. Operating mainly from the right hand side, from the very first whistle he was fearlessly running at the Macclesfield defence. There were numerous times where he had left back David Fitzpatrick twisting and turning in vain as he attempted to regain possession.

However, it was a different side of the youngster’s game which contributed to the Hammers’ first goal of the evening. Following Snodgrass’ 29th minute corner, Diangana fought to ensure Ty Marsh couldn’t clear. The ball eventually cannoned off Diangana’s foot, falling to fellow academy graduate Declan Rice who lifted the ball towards the six yard box for Michail Antonio to head in.

A mixture of Dinagana’s skill and poor defending from Macclesfield led to the second goal in the 32nd minute. The 20-year-old cut inside Fitzpatrick before firing a shot off, which Kieran O’Hara was only able to parry up into the air. Macclesfield’s defenders tried to clear the ball away from the line, but in the end West Ham’s Scotsman tapped it in from just inches out.

By half time the score was 3-0 as Aaron Cresswell crossed in for Lucas Perez who volleyed the ball into the net. Conor Coventry was brought on at half time and the goals kept coming in the second half. Ryan Fredericks broke into the box and finished emphatically, Ogbonna then headed home a corner ball before Robert Snodgrass stabbed the ball home on the hour mark to make the score 6-0.

While all of this had been going on Diangana continued to dazzle with his technical quality, but a deserved goal was so far eluding him. He was given a bit of help by his fellow Academy of Football graduate Joe Powell, who replaced Michail Antonio in the 61st minute. Just six minutes after the 19-year-old came on he played a one-two with Diangana on the edge of the box. West Ham’s number 45 then shifted the ball away from the approaching defenders onto his right foot and struck the ball past the goalkeeper. The joy on his face lit up the entire stadium as he celebrated by doing the irons sign with his arms in front of the supporters.

The pair weren’t finished quite yet though. In the 82nd minute Diangana made a run in behind the Macclesfield defence, was picked out by a pinpoint through ball from Powell and calmly placed the ball into the far corner. This was to be the last goal of the match, with the scoreboard reading 8-0 at the full time whistle.

It was an impressive performance all round from the Hammers, but everyone was talking about Diangana as they left the London Stadium. He had been named man of the match and there won’t have been many who disagreed with that verdict. While supporters must not get carried away and it’s unlikely that he will be involved against Manchester United this weekend, the 20-year-old will definitely have forced his way into Manuel Pellegrini’s thinking. Even if he doesn’t feature in the league in the near future, we can surely expect Diangana to get another Carabao Cup chance. He’s displayed here that he has plenty of talent, if it is nurtured correctly we could eventually see him in the first team with Declan Rice for years to come.

 

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