Championship Sides in with EFL Cup Shot?
In fifty-eight editions of the competition to date, a lower league side has in fact only prevailed four times. The 2012 final saw Cardiff come memorably close to glory, but failed to become the fifth side to upset the odds, as the Dragons lost a penalty shootout to nine-time winners Liverpool. It was a turn of events made more painful by the fact that Cardiff had also drawn first blood in regular time and dominated the first half, before Liverpool’s superior stamina began to turn the tide.
Given the low prize money on offer, this is a competition now rarely taken seriously by Premier League teams that have existing European commitments – that is until the final. Though Football League representation is relatively rare at Wembley, shock eliminations are still commonplace in the EFL Cup, with a third-tier Bradford City reaching the final at the expense of Arsenal just four years ago. Now a new season approaches, and the bookmakers have spoken out, with three Championship clubs, in particular, getting surprisingly short odds to spring an EFL Cup shock. Are these sides really worthy of Wembley Way?
Then a League Two side, Bradford City finished as EFL Cup runners up in 2013. This season, in one case, the Bantams are priced at 125/1 just to reach the final.
Middlesbrough – 80/1
As very narrow favourites to win the Football League Championship, and thus reclaim a place in the Premier League, Middlesbrough are also considered the most likely Championship club to win the EFL Cup.
Priced at around 40/1 in English Football League Cup betting stakes just to reach the final, Boro will likely continue to struggle for goals unless the ‘parachute payments’ available to relegated clubs are used shrewdly. Key striker Alvaro Negredo is also bound to depart within a matter of weeks, with West Bromwich by far the likeliest destination.
VERDICT: The winners of the 2004 final will be focused entirely on regaining promotion to the Premier League. No chance of a Wembley appearance in this competition.
Sheffield Wednesday – 100/1
A solitary strike from Nigel Pearson gave Sheffield Wednesday an EFL Cup final victory over Manchester United in 1991 – the club’s last piece of major silverware. The South Yorkshire club remain the last lower league side to have lifted English Football’s most underrated trophy. The Owls also demolished a not-severely weakened Arsenal side 3-0 in the fourth round two years ago.
As low as 50/1 with one bookmaker to win the League Cup, there is clearly a lot of optimism surrounding Carlos Carvalhal’s side, with attacking duo Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri plundering 23 goals between them in 2016/17.
VERDICT: Sheffield Wednesday certainly have the resources to prevail against a weakened Premier League side when on form. However, the killer instinct that was lacking in the playoffs, and the playoff final of 2016, is an issue that will remain unless Carvalhal can pull off a major transfer coup in the summer.
Sheffield Wednesday demolished Arsenal on 27 October 2015 in the fourth round of the EFL Cup.
Birmingham City – 125/1
Given how near to disaster Birmingham came last season, this is a surprisingly short price, implying that the situation at St Andrew’s may improve beyond current expectations. Despite the optimism surrounding the side Redknapp could build, the Blues will need at least one season to rebuild. The playoffs are, therefore, likely to be out of reach for Harry Redknapp’s side.
However, there are at least six teams in worse shape than Birmingham ahead of 2017/18, meaning another relegation struggle is very unlikely. As such, free from much distraction in the league, the Blues will be striving to repeat their remarkable cup triumph of 2011. With the possibility of several useful additions, teams will underestimate Birmingham at their peril next season.
VERDICT: It is obviously a long shot, but if anyone can use his vast managerial experience, and unique character, to get a lower league side to Wembley, it’s Redknapp.