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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

Hammers can put horror league start behind them at AFC Wimbedon

Wombles are a threat but class should tell in the EFL Cup at Kingsmeadow

West Ham players celebrate Marko Arnautovic's goal at Arsenal
1 of 1

EFL Cup second round
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Tuesday

West Ham's dodgy defence has contributed to three straight defeats but it should not prevent them from getting past AFC Wimbledon in the EFL Cup second round.

Amid the gloom of a pointless start to the Premier League campaign, West Ham have looked lively in attack and they can cause their Sky Bet League One hosts plenty of problems at Kingsmeadow, even if star striker Marko Arnautovic is not risked due to a minor injury.

Manuel Pellegrini is likely to give opportunities to some of his fringe players but the Chilean has a fine record in the competition, having won it twice in three seasons at Manchester City, and knows the importance of avoiding an embarrassing result.

He felt confident enough to have a pop at the Hammers supporters in the wake of their 2-1 loss at home to Bournemouth, criticising those who left the stadium before the final whistle, but needs to give them something back to get them fully on his side.

The EFL Cup is a competition West Ham should be targeting.

If offers them their best chance of winning a trophy and given their poor start the to season it is probably their best hope of securing European football.

There were plenty of positive signs for Pellegrini to take out of Saturday's 3-1 loss at Arsenal.

West Ham caused the Gunners problems with swift counter-attacks and were competing on fairly even terms until Issa Diop's unfortunate 70th-minute own goal put the home 2-1 side ahead.

If the Hammers reach a similar standard against Wimbledon they should justify their status as odds-on favourites.

Wimbledon go into the game on a run of three games without a win and their points tally of five from five games is only one better than they had at the same stage of last season.

However, their performances have been encouraging, including Saturday's 2-1 loss at home to Sunderland when they competed well against their division's title favourites.

Neal Ardley's men showed no fear against the Black Cats and another positive performance could unsettle a defence who are not used to keeping clean sheets.

The Wombles' attacking options include target man James Hanson, who was a EFL Cup finalist with Bradford in 2013.

However, the West Ham defence is more susceptible to pace than physicality and Ardley will be hoping fleet-footed striker Kwesi Appiah is able to return from injury.

Appiah and Joe Pigott, Wimbledon's top scorer with three goals, are probably the preferred front two and would give the home side plenty of energy and the best chance of unsettling their illustrious opponents.

West Ham may be rattled enough to concede but it should be a matter of time before their extra quality comes to the fore, affording under-pressure Pellegrini some breathing space.

West Ham to win & both teams to score
1pt 11-4 Betfred

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Team news

AFC Wimbledon
Kwesi Appiah picked up a knock in last Tuesday's 3-1 loss to Walsall and missed Saturday's 2-1 defeat against Sunderland. No fresh injuries have been reported.

West Ham
Marko Arnautovic and Michail Antonio are major doubts after picking up knocks in the 3-1 loss at Arsenal. Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid and Andy Carroll are long-term absentees. Mark Noble (back) is a doubt.

Key stat
Wimbledon have won just one of their last eight home games.

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Wimbledon have won just one of their last eight home games
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