1) Lincoln City put up the greatest of fights in their narrow home defeat to Everton. Of course they did, they are brilliant at almost everything. Even more telling about the spirit of the Imps was that two consecutive league defeats, including Saturday’s narrow loss at rivals Doncaster Rovers, had not dampened the character of Danny Cowley’s side.
Against a strong Everton side, Lincoln took the lead superbly after 18 seconds and came back to level at 2-2 with a goal worthy of winning any Premier League Goal of the Month competition. Unlike their famous FA Cup run of 2016/17 however, City were unable to add another notch to their bed, but they did rock the Toffees bedframe, and can take many more positives than negatives into the rest of their League One campaign.
2) It would be remiss of me to dismiss Everton’s progression without reward. Fellow Premier League sides Crystal Palace and Norwich City came unstuck against less difficult opposition than Lincoln, and given the Imps’ cup pedigree in recent years, Everton could have been forgiven at times for thinking they would become the 10th higher-league side to have been taken out by Danny Cowley in his time at Sincil Bank.
But Marco Silva knows the importance of this, of any competition, of any chance of silverware. This may be one of the most fascinating and exciting Everton teams in recent years, but a top six place, and certainly Champions League qualification, seem almost impossible targets to attain. To really make the money spent worthwhile, securing seventh place is simply not enough. Silverware would make the fans happy. There certainly won’t be many harder tests than this trip to Lincolnshire.
— Everton (@Everton) August 29, 2019
3) It is needless to go on again about the turmoil and negativity at St James’ Park following the arrival of Steve Bruce and the continued tenure of Mike Ashley. The Toon Army do not expect to be competing for European places, nor do they expect scintillating football week in, week out, they just want something to cheer. They are not alone in that regard.
A tie against fellow Premier League side Leicester City was not the easiest draw, but this is yet another wasted opportunity at attaining first silverware on Tyneside in over half a century. A League Cup run would have granted Bruce reprieve no matter how bad league results could potentially become. He has now been robbed of that platform, and the excruciatingly long wait for a cup win goes on.
4) At the weekend, we talked about Swansea City’s surprising brilliance in the opening month of the new season. This week, we saw Steve Cooper’s side make a full 11 changes to the starting line-up of that 3-0 victory over Birmingham City for the clash against League Two Cambridge United. Within half an hour of the Wednesday night clash, the Swans had gone one better, before taking a 5-0 lead into the half-time break.
Questions will inevitably be asked of the Liberty Stadium outfit’s ability to last the full season, and few would have expected a clash against the side placed 11th in League Two to answer those questions, but an XI of players including Tom Carroll on his first appearance in nearly a year and the full debut of teenage winger Jordan Garrick show that this team has tremendous strength in depth. Swansea are becoming more brilliant and less surprising with every match.
Most goals in English football this season…
Man City: 10
Not bad for a Welsh team managed by an welshman… 🦢
— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) August 28, 2019
5) For all the awful, poisonous and downright depressing stories that encompass much of football in recent days, weeks, months and years, there is always a tale to warm the heart and believe in good again. Swansea’s 6-0 victory was amazing for a multitude of reasons, but none more so than the second-half arrival of debutant midfielder Jack Evans.
A first appearance for your hometown club for any 21-year-old would be special, but for Evans, it meant even more. This is a man who survived cancer and believed his football career was over before it had even begun. On Wednesday, a second dream came true.
6) Forty miles up the M4, if ever there was one side who could prove how quickly goodwill in football can turn sour, it is 2019 Cardiff City. That unlikeliest of promotions – a record-breaking one for manager Neil Warnock – saw the Bluebirds unlucky to make an immediate return to the second tier. Overwhelming support towards their veteran manager saw no qualms over the immediate future of the 70-year-old following relegation, but less than a month into the new season and the EFL’s oldest manager might be being put out to pasture.
If cup results matter little to a side with bigger fish to fry, having less than 30% possession at home to a team who last season were two divisions lower in Luton Town is far more startling. With three upcoming league fixtures against sides expected to be in and around the promotion places, Cardiff need drastic improvement for when it really matters.
7) In the first round, Forest Green Rovers went to Championship side Charlton Athletic and progressed on penalties. It looked as though it would be déjà vu in this week’s tie at Premier League Bournemouth, Bristol City loanee goal keeper Jojo Wollacott the stand-out player again for the Gloucestershire side.
But there was to be no fairytale this time around as the visitors succumbed to Mark Travers’ three penalty saves in a whitewash shootout. This tie was a tale of two ‘keepers who have used and will continue to use this competition to boost and further their own careers.
Three. Top. Saves. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/mKitNQqqHF
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) August 28, 2019
8) Perhaps one of the biggest winners in Tom Heaton’s wonderfully sensible move to Aston Villa this summer was Joe Hart, who was afforded the chance to see his status at Sean Dyche’s Burnley move from third-choice goalkeeper to second-choice shot-stopper, assuming Adam Legzdins is firmly down the Turf Moor pecking order. On Wednesday night however, shot-stopper was not the most apt description for the England international.
In the 50 minutes it took Sunderland to go 3-1 up, Hart faced four shots on target. The one that didn’t go in? A parried save right to the head of Black Cats captain Tom Flanagan to head in Sunderland’s second goal of the evening. Burnley’s second choice, perhaps, but goodness knows where Hart lies in England’s pecking order these days.
9) Talking of England goalkeepers, the midweek fixtures provided opportunities for Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland to showcase their now-usual qualities. The former got himself involved in a spot of handbags at Sincil Bank seconds after his side took the lead from the penalty spot, while Butland was once again the Potters’ villain as his daisy cutter of a goal kick inadvertently landed at the feet of young Leeds United striker Eddie Nketiah, who tucked home an equalising goal past the sprawling City ‘keeper.
Jack Butland 😬 pic.twitter.com/Vf2h42GIOL
— Gary Taphouse (@garytaphouse) August 27, 2019
For a £25million rated man, it was the latest in a long catalogue of errors for season 2019/20. Less than an hour later though, and along came redemption. Zero became hero with Butland scoring the winning penalty in a 5-4 shootout against Marcelo Bielsa’s side. For Nathan Jones, this could be the kickstart his Stoke career craved.
The question now is; does Butland retain his place? He won’t be on spot-kick duty in the league, and while Adam Federici conceded three against the same opposition on Saturday, there is also former Barnsley ‘keeper Adam Davies on the bench, who certainly didn’t sign up to be third choice for the Championship’s basement club.
10) A shout-out must of course go to the biggest winners of Tuesday night – in terms of scoreline, at least – Aston Villa. As simple as it is to suggest that momentum plays a huge role in sporting success, the Villains following their first Premier League win in 15 attempts across four years with a resounding 6-1 victory at Crewe Alexandra is not to be sniffed at.
Add in the fact that half of Villa’s goals on the night were scored by players either brought in this summer, brought in the previous year and loaned out, or are just breaking into the first team having come through the academy, and that signals a strength in depth which will also help the 2010 finalists to do well on a variety of fronts this season.
11) But the real biggest winners across both nights were the League Two sides who not only defeated Premier League opposition – however much weakened or how many changes were made – but kept clean sheets in the process. Crawley Town’s 1-0 home win over a much changed and Teemu Pukki-less Norwich City, coupled by the penalty shootout victory for Colchester United at Selhurst Park, made for a great round of ‘cupsets’ on Tuesday night.
This might not quite be the FA Cup where non-league sides are putting out more established top-flight sides, but in a competition that has failed to take itself entirely seriously in recent years, it is good to see some results which still retain public interest in the country’s second cup competition.
12) It may have come as a surprise to some, but Javi Gracia was seemingly and somewhat inevitably only one league defeat away from the chop at Watford, and while no League Cup victory was ever going to lift the dark clouds over Vicarage Road, that 3-0 victory over League One Coventry City does offer some Hornets reprieve.
A first Watford goal for record signing Ismaila Sarr in a performance capped by the little known but hugely talented Adalberto Penaranda’s wonder goal have put an end to seven straight defeats for the Hertfordshire outfit either side of the summer. Even twice as many goals would do little to extend Gracia’s stay in England should league form not pick up given the nature of the competition, but consider the alternative; had Watford been taken out at home to third-tier opponents, the Spaniard’s immediate future would have been nearly untenable.
He only scores good goals 🚀 pic.twitter.com/gQY7QNHw8i
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) August 28, 2019
13) While regionalised draws can be viewed as synthesising football in some quarters, not having to travel the length and breadth of the country for early League Cup ties against unglamorous opponents has to be a positive.
It also throws up the opportunity for local derbies which fans of either side take seriously regardless of the competition; friendly, league, cup or otherwise. Nottingham Forest retained the Brian Clough Trophy with a 3-0 victory over Derby County’s youthful outfit while Sheffield Wednesday secured passage to the third round with that last-minute victory at South Yorkshire neighbours Rotherham United. The League Cup might not mean so much, but to the victors, bragging rights will mean everything.
14) That last-minute Wednesday winner was a real sucker blow for Rotherham fans. It is the fourth time in just over half a decade they have conceded last-minute goals at the New York Stadium against their biggest rivals.
Under Steve Evans, the Millers went from the jubilation of going 2-1 up with just minutes left on the clock to conceding a stoppage-time double, while just last season Dominic Iorfa scored his first Owls goal in the 99th minute to secure a 2-2 draw. Atdhe Nuhiu’s last kick of the game on Wednesday must have left Rotherham supporters with that sinking feeling once more. A word to the wise for the away fans in this fixture; never leave early.
15) Jairo Riedewald in 2016: highly rated Dutch international more than capable of playing stellar football at centre-back and in the middle of the park, linked with some of the world’s biggest clubs after becoming the latest in a long line of Ajax youth prodigies.
Jairo Riedewald in 2019: first appearance for Premier League strugglers Crystal Palace in over a year in a League Cup defeat at home to League Two Colchester United at left back.
Somehow still only 22 years old, there’s still time to revive his career, and there’s time left to do it before Momday’s European deadline. Time to go, Jairo.
16) For Reading, their surprising start to the season has gone largely unnoticed in the EFL 16 Conclusions, but on Tuesday night, the Royals compounded a great couple of weeks by twice coming from behind away at Home Park to League Two promotion chasers Plymouth Argyle.
Having taken seven points in six days from league games against Huddersfield Town, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City, progression to the third round of the League Cup illustrates just what a great job Jose Gomes has done in his year in charge at the Madejski Stadium. Things are starting to look very different in Berkshire compared to this time last year.
Nathan Spafford – follow him on Twitter