David Moyes, meanwhile, had just taken his Sunderland side to London Stadium – newly inhabited by West Ham and far from happy – to receive a 1-0 loss that left the Scotsman rooted deep in the Premier League.
On the day they were given permission to increase the capacity of a house that is finally starting to look like it, West Ham gave 60,000 sold-out spectators another memorable night under Moyes’ direction as they performed back to back. overtake Manchester clubs in a competition that was supposed to matter little in a season devoted to Premier League consolidation and a European adventure.
After opting for a roster that left more than hint at the Carabao Cup’s diminished position on West Ham’s recently expanded priority list, leaving Declan Rice and Michail Antonio at home and turning wherever the team depths allowed, it was only shortly after the hour. that Moyes, with the game still scoreless and sensing an unexpected opportunity, sent the cavalry.
A triple change, replacing a largely ineffective front row with the cunning and energy of Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals, didn’t affect the playing pattern much as neither of the trio particularly shone in the half. hour remaining.
Still, it was about a mid-match shift in mindset – “we’re still there, so we might as well win it” – which seemed to completely change the complexion of the match, alerting players and the crowd to the very real possibility of upset in the face. to a hardworking city, which had won the last four editions of this competition.
It gave the home side a boost that, from when Mark Noble led the way to crush the first of what would be five flawless home penalties, has only accelerated in one direction. Phil Foden’s failure seconds later was the only one of the shootout, with Benrahma eventually beating Zack Steffen to seal the passage to the quarterfinals.
From the ninety minutes leading up to the shooting, Moyes will not have learned much he did not already know – both good and bad.
This Andriy Yarmolenko is not Antonio, for example. Give him a chance in front of goal and he might just grab it (although history suggests it’s much more likely in Ukrainian yellow than burgundy and blue), but he by no means mimics the qualities at all- action, intimidating, lively Jamaican, providing no outlet whatsoever as the home side were parked for much of the first half.
Likewise, the fact that Moyes cannot afford to lose Rice or Tomas Soucek for an extended period. The jury is out on Alex Kral, given his absences, but the prospect of Noble’s “last job” becoming anything other than a part-time job becomes more annoying with each appearance, club leader and legend that he is.
But there were also callbacks of more substantial depth that bodes well for a campaign that can now still unfold on four fronts in the New Year. Even though Vladimir Coufal has made a welcome return as a late replacement, Ben Johnson has shown why what could have been a right-back injury crisis in recent weeks has manifested at worst as a drawback.
And at Alphonse Areola, who has made a series of very varied saves – reactions to deflections, close quarters, blockages with his feet – he has a substitute keeper better than many who start every week in this league.
The fact that the Frenchman wasn’t far from any of City’s kicks (Foden dragged his wide off) was an irrelevant footnote on another night to revere for a team currently producing them on a base almost weekly.