Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham: finishing the difference

Ayew and Sakho celebrate – skysports.com

Late first half goals from Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew saw West Ham move into Round Three of the League Cup, but not without the occasional scare at Whaddon Road. Here’s our four talking points from Wednesday evening.

Cheltenham’s early pressure

The hosts pressed narrowly with midfielder Nigel Atangana breaking well into the opposing half to harry behind Mohamed Eisa and Danny Wright. The latter and right midfielder Harry Pell were often used as aerial reference points, with lots of diagonal balls played to them on the right channel, but Declan Rice was often tidying up in those areas. Eisa and Carl Winchester combined for a chance each on the other side but the former took too long to get his shot away while the latter snatched at his opportunity. There was not much difference between the two teams in the middle third of the pitch, which underlines Cheltenham’s competitive performance.

West Ham ruthless in both boxes

The Robins applied pressure for much of the first half, but they lacked the technical guile to breach a James Collins-led wall and test Adrian San Miguel. By contrast, West Ham applied pressure for two minutes and they immediately forced goalline interventions from midfielder Kyle Storer and goalkeeper Jonathan Flatt. The former headed Angelo Ogbonna’s powerful header off the line, moments before the latter stopped Diafra Sakho from point-blank range. Sakho though did get his goal, passing the ball beyond Flatt after a through ball from Mark Noble, three minutes before Andre Ayew added a second with a cool finish.

Eisa’s chances

Kevin Dawson entered the fray at half-time to occupy left-midfield, allowing Carl Winchester to move to right-back. Winchester provided more attacking verve there than Jordon Forster – whose skillset was put to better use at centre-back – and combined well with Pell. Their link-up play led to two shots from the lively Eisa but both lacked accuracy, with one blocked and another straight at the keeper. Ayew curled narrowly wide for the Hammers on 70 minutes, before Pell’s deflected ball to the back-post just evaded the stretching substitute, Dan Holman.

In summary

That move encapsulated Cheltenham’s evening: plenty of endeavour but they couldn’t make it pay, with just two shots on target all evening. West Ham needed the victory to relieve some scrutiny ahead of Saturday’s trip to Newcastle. One suspects though that they cannot afford to come under the same amount of pressure against higher-quality opposition.