If the Capital One Cup is just a reserve competition with a Wembley final, Sam Allardyce made perfect use of it last night. His array of imports, fringe players and youngsters enjoyed 90 improving minutes against Crewe Alexandra, which will help in West Ham United's bid to stay in the Premier League. They even won this second-round game 2-0, with Nicky Maynard and Mobido Maiga asserting their case for selection with two good goals.
The changes were no surprise. Only Kevin Nolan remained of the side that was so badly outplayed at Swansea City on Saturday. The other 10 were all different, and if Allardyce said he was keen to progress, his youthful bench, no real insurance policy, did not suggest as much.
But the object of the evening was experience, and the win was a bonus. West Ham assistant manager Neil McDonald confirmed afterwards the order of priorities. "It's been a perfect night," he said. "Two goals, a clean sheet, we're through into the hat for the next round. And, more importantly, players who needed games have had a fantastic work-out."
"They have put in a performance that will be quite rightly knocking on the manager's door to say 'I'm available and ready'."
Three forwards who started the Swansea game on the bench combined to put West Ham ahead. After a slow start, Ricardo Vaz Te was starting to take responsibility, drifting into the middle. He took the ball in midfield and played it to Modibo Maiga and broke down the right. Vaz Te received the return chip and clipped in a cross which Nicky Maynard volleyed in at the near post.
Crewe, in fact, had started the first half playing the more cohesive football, creating the first real chance for AJ Leitch-Smith. They did well again after the break, claiming for a penalty when Clayton collided with Alou Diarra.
But experience and class will eventually tell, and West Ham soon scored the sealing second. Nolan was released through the inside-left channel, and his powerful shot was too much for Alan Martin in goal. The ball rolled out to Maiga, who scored his first for his new club.
With the win assured, there was time to test the next crop of youngsters. "It was a perfect opportunity to give them a bit of a go," said McDonald. Matthias Fanimo came on at left-back and created a good chance for Maiga with his first touch. Rob Hall was lively on the right wing, nearly making it 3-0 in the final minutes. "When they came on they acquitted themselves very well."
West Ham United (4-1-4-1) Henderson; Spence, O'Brien, Potts, Taylor (Fanimo, 60); Diame; Maynard, O'Neil, Nolan (Moncur, 83), Vaz Te (Hall, 73); Maiga. Substitutes not used Spiegel, Demel, Driver, McCallum,
Crewe Alexandra (4-2-3-1) Main; Mellor, Davis, Ellis (Dugdale, 73), Robertson; Murphy, Westwood; Moore, Leitch-Smith (Turton, 80), Bunn (Osman, 62); Clayton. Substitutes not used Garratt, Guthrie, Ray, Daniels,
Referee F Graham (Essex).