Two first-half goals in the space of three minutes from Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew helped us to overcome a stern Cheltenham Town side at The LCI Rail Stadium last night to book a place in the Draw for The Carabao Cup Third Round.
Slaven Bilic made as many as seven changes to the side that were beaten at The St Mary’s Stadium last Saturday, but the team still included a considerable amount of Premier League quality.
Spanish goalkeeper Adrian, the defensive trio of Sam Byram, birthday boy James Collins and Arthur Masuaku, midfielders Pedro Obiang and Edimilson Fernandes and forward Diafra Sakho all came into the team in Gloucestershire. They replaced Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Jose Fonte, Aaron Cresswell, Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio and new Mexican signing Javier Hernandez.
The hosts made no changes after their weekend defeat to Carlisle United and left new-man Kevin Dawson on the bench. Overall, Jonathan Flatt started in goal with Jordan Foster, former PE Teacher Jamie Grimes, Will Boyle and Jordan Cranston in defence. The Robins went with a midfield of Harry Pell, skipper Kyle Storer, Nigel Atangana and Carl Winchester and an attacking duo of star man Mohamed Eisa and Danny Wright up top.
Despite our considerable strength in depth, it would be Gary Johnson’s men that dug in to make our lives hard at the start and showed an incredible amount of resistance.
Angelo Ogbonna had his bullet header cleared off the line from a Noble corner in the early exchanges and moments later, Diafra Sakho’s sliding effort drew a magnificent save from Flatt in the Cheltenham goal.
However, the stern home side were finally broken down by Sakho on 40 minutes, as the forward showed fantastic technical ability to put us ahead.
Skipper Mark Noble played a superb ball into the former Senegal international and he spun cleverly to unleash a low shot into the far corner. The goal would prove to be a real sucker punch for the League Two side, as they fell even further behind just three minutes later.
Sakho soon turned from goal-scorer to goal-provider at Whaddon Road, as we broke away on the counter attack. After receiving the ball from Pedro Obiang, Sakho subtly laid it off to Andre Ayew and The Ghanaian calmly finished into the net in a similar fashion to his teammate.
In the space of just a few moments, the home side’s hard work had been completely obliterated, but they soldiered on in a spirited second-half display.
Forward Mohamed Eisa was playing for Greenwich Borough in the Ninth Tier of English Football just months ago, but he would be giving our defence plenty to think about in the second period.
The No20 did well to force both a block from Collins and a save from Adrian early in the half, but he was involved in the most controversial moment of the match shortly after.
Having raced down the right flank and got the better of Arthur Masuaku, Eisa was shoved to the floor by the Frenchman, but Referee Oliver Langford thought better of awarding the hosts a penalty.
Substitute Dan Holman squandered the home side’s best chance of the encounter late on as he could not convert a Harry Pell delivery. But in the end, we had held out for our first clean sheet of the season and a large part of that was with compliments to Declan Rice in defensive midfield.
The Irish youngster put in yet another cool, calm and collected performance in his second Hammers start and first Carabao Cup appearance, the starlet certainly does look like a wonderful prospect.
So, with Bilic’s Boys sailing to a comfortable and excellent victory in Gloucestershire, Cheltenham Town have been dumped out of the League Cup in the early stages for the second consecutive season and can now look forward to hosting Exeter City in The League on Saturday.
Whereas, we make the trip back to East London in superb spirits after a vital first victory of the season and have secured a place in the Draw for Round Three of The Carabao Cup. The away trips are now coming thick and fast for The Claret & Blue Army, with our fourth away game of August set for Saturday afternoon at St James’ Park.