With the Premier League’s big-boys entering the EFL Cup in this week’s third round, we take a look at the Football League sides hoping to spring a surprise and secure a place in the last 16 of the competition.
With the likes of Tranmere Rovers, Birmingham City, Cardiff City and Bradford City having all found themselves competing in League Cup finals whilst outside of English football’s top tier since the turn of the Millennium, could 2016’s rebranded competition see a set of Football League fans enjoy a day out under the Wembley Arch? With exactly half of the clubs remaining in the EFL Cup not currently dining at English football’s top table, we take a look at 5 Football League clubs that will be dreaming of upsetting a Premier League opponent this week.
Having been handed a mouth-watering home tie with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners on Tuesday night, Phillippe Montanier’s Reds will hope to bounce back from Saturday’s 2-1 home reverse at the hands of Norwich City and follow in the footsteps of Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City, two Football League clubs that have ended Arsenal’s League Cup hopes in recent seasons. Somewhat incredibly, Wenger is yet to win the League Cup in his 20-year Arsenal reign, and with his Premier League rivals having strengthened considerably this summer, will view this competition as a great chance to add to his 15 pieces of English silverware won thus far. Interest in the encounter has been enhanced further by former Gunner Nicklas Bendtner’s claims that he plans to celebrate should he find the net against the club for which he made over 100 Premier League appearances, and with Barnsley the only second-tier side to have scored more league goals this campaign, home advantage should ensure that Forest give Wenger’s side a run for their money.
8 days after a 6-0 home trashing at the hands of Newcastle United, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s inconsistent Hoops entertain the Toon’s old rivals Sunderland, who, following the decision to replace England-bound saviour Sam Allardyce with former Manchester United boss David Moyes, sit second from bottom in the Premier League, without a single league win this campaign. Having edged past third-tier Shrewsbury in the last round, the Black Cats will be keen to avoid a potential upset at Loftus Road, a result which would place the stuggling Moyes under severe pressure, with the Scot having become Sunderland’s fifth permanent manager since March 2013 upon his appointment.
After their remarkable extra-time win over Premier League Burnley, broadcast live from the Wham Stadium by Sky Sports, John Coleman’s underdogs face a dream trip to the Olympic Stadium to face out-of-form West Ham United on Wednesday night. Stanley will be hoping to take advantage of the Hammer’s recent defensive woes, with Manchester City, Watford and West Bromwich Albion putting a combined 11 goals past the Irons in their last three fixtures. Slaven Bilic will most likely make changes to his side, but will be hoping for a comfortable victory to ease the growing cries of discontent voiced by Hammers fans in recent weeks. Whatever the result, Stanley’s travelling fans will no doubt enjoy their night out under the floodlights at West Ham’s magnificent new home, where the hosts will be expecting to ease to just their third competitive win since leaving the Boleyn Ground following a terrific 2015/16 campaign.
Accrington Stanley were not the only second round giant-killers, with League One Gillingham rewarded for their superb 2-1 success over Watford at Vicarage Road with an eye-catching trip to White Hart Lane to face Mauricio Pochettino’s in-form Spurs, who occupy third place in the Premier League following an unbeaten start to the campaign. Without a win this month, the Gills should not pose a serious threat to the Lilywhites, despite Justin Edinburgh’s insistence that his charges will not roll over for their more illustrious opponents. Yet with Pochettino sure to ring the changes with both Premier League and UEFA Champions League fixtures on the horizon, and with England forward Harry Kane sure to miss out having suffered suspected ligament damage in Sunday’s win over Sunderland, Spurs fans would be unwise to take the win for granted.
Sunday’s shock 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road saw Jose Mourinho lose three successive games in all competitions for the first time since his early days managing FC Porto in his homeland, and with the outspoken tactician admitting his players are low on confidence following an awful week, could Rob Page’s Cobblers, conquerors of Premier League West Bromwich Albion and second-tier Barnsley in previous rounds, provide the biggest shock of the competition so far by embarrassing the Red Devils in Wednesday night’s televised encounter?
Despite recent setbacks, this looks to almost be this week’s most unlikely tie to see an upset, with ‘The Special One’ demanding a reaction from his out-of-form team, with a return to a lineup similar to that which was beaten by Feyenoord in the UEFA Europa League last Thursday expected. Mourinho’s two spells at Chelsea saw him lift the League Cup on three occasions, having competed for the honour just six times during this time at the Bridge. The hosts will be hoping to put a blot on Mourinho’s outstanding record in this competition as English football’s most decorated club make the trip to Sixfields on Wednesday evening.
If you are either truly mad or feeling incredibly lucky, all five of the Football League sides looked at here can be backed to qualify for the fourth round at odds of over 1700/1 with a 5-fold Sky Bet accumulator. A more sensible, yet still potentially lucrative bet may be the 15/1 offered on Championship sides QPR and Nottingham Forest to both win their difficult home ties in 90 minutes, also at Sky Bet.