For West Ham United, Wednesday night's clash with Manchester City is an exercise in damage limitation. Sam Allardyce will task his patched-up side with fighting to keep the Capital One Cup semi-final alive into the second leg before attention switches to Saturday's trip to Cardiff, the "biggest game of the season" according to Matt Taylor.
Boosted by the return to fitness of key players – possibly even the rarely sighted Andy Carroll – the Hammers will fight on another front in the bigger battle to stay in the Premier League. But then everybody inside and outside Upton Park knows what has happened to the best-laid plans of Allardyce and his men in weeks gone by.
The League Cup is a happy oddity in West Ham's season, a silver lining amid the storm clouds. They have won more games in the competition than in the league.
The triumph at Tottenham in the quarter-finals is the sole occasion in which they have come from behind to win this season – Taylor could not remember the previous time the side had managed such a recovery (it was against Chelsea in December 2012).
Allardyce has made his priorities for the week quite clear. Sunday's "done and dusted" FA Cup humiliation was bottom of the list. At the Etihad is next best and Cardiff top priority, but for the moment it is about City and the allure of going to Wembley for a cup final, a journey the club have not made since 1981.
Allardyce spoke of the "great joy" of experiencing a Wembley cup final, as he did when he was in charge of Bolton a decade ago.
"We are in a very exciting cup tie with a massive, massive feeling of joy at the end of it if, as big as the underdogs that we are, we can get to Wembley," the manager said. "We don't have the same pressure we experience in the Premier League, that is for certain. We don't have to beat them on Wednesday. We have to come back with something realistic to beat them at home if we can."
Allardyce remains under no illusions how difficult it will be to get that "day out" at Wembley nor that it is what happens after the semi-final first leg, once West Ham have flown back south to begin preparations for Cardiff, that will decide his own future.
By 2 March, the day of the cup final, he could be out of a job whether West Ham are there or not. The clubs surrounding West Ham in the league have all dismissed their managers. On Monday the club's co-chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan, supported theirs.
"Their track record proves they haven't rushed into anything," said Allardyce, admitting he was grateful for the public backing. "Over the last 18-20 years, the managers they've had, they've given them a good chance and stuck by them when things are not going so well.
"The reactions [of club owners in general] are getting quicker and quicker and quicker due to the impatience throughout the game for success. Success isn't built overnight. History tells you continually changing managers doesn't mean success. But I'm realistic to know I have to get results particularly quickly. In the end, we all know what happens if you don't get results as a manager."
Taylor insisted that for all the external "furore" surrounding Allardyce and the club, inside all is calm. "In-house everything is pretty buoyant," he said. "I don't believe there is a manager out there you would [rather have] in charge at this precise moment.
"You look at the teams he has managed, you look at the success he has had as a manager in keeping teams in the Premier League. I don't think I need to sit here and tell you his strong points – they are there for everybody to see."
Roger Johnson, who trained with the team for the first time following his arrival on loan from Wolves, is set to make his debut with Allardyce anxious to add more height to his back line; he highlighted City's aerial and physical threat.
Mark Noble may be fit to play at City and certainly against Cardiff as the injury crisis eases. James Collins and James Tomkins should be ready for Cardiff too and, most encouraging of all for Allardyce, Carroll could be on the bench as early as Saturday. That, at any rate, is the plan.
Pellegrini prepared for Hammers backlash
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini expects his under-fire West Ham counterpart Sam Allardyce to bounce back from his weekend FA Cup humiliation.
A youthful Hammers team were thrashed 5-0 by Championship side Nottingham Forest on Sunday, increasing pressure on Allardyce, but Pellegrini is reading little into that result ahead of the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg.
Pellegrini said: "They had an awful result but they played with young players. I am absolutely sure this will be a very different game."
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