Capital One Cup Roundup: Heroes and Villains for the Premier League Participants
You know the football season is officially back in full swing when you see the big boys of England's top flight traveling to the nippy climates of Crawley and Sheffield on a weekday evening.
There's something beautifully poetic about the balance that a competition like the Capital One Cup—formerly the Carling Cup—brings to viewers, pitting the best in the land against those whom may be perceived as something less.
The League Cup, as the competition is otherwise known, got its second round underway this evening and 12 Premier League outfits were on hand to compete for our entertainment.
Not that their lower league counterparts' presence holds any less significance in this tournament, but the next dozen slides shall focus on those from the top tier.
So, in a night of action involving those teams who don't get to play on the big stages too often, here's a rundown of just who was, or wasn't in fine form for our Premier league representatives in Round Two of the Capital One Cup.
Aston Villa 3-0 Tranmere Rovers
Fabian Delph: In flying form
Stu Forster/Getty Images
Although it took them a while to get into their stride, Aston Villa were imperious once they got going against their League One opposition on Tuesday night.
And boy, did they need an easy fixture to boost the confidence of the support at Villa Park.
After two Premier League fixtures, Paul Lambert's side find themselves dead bottom of the Premier League food-chain, and they'll need all the help they can get before a trip to Newcastle United this weekend.
One very particular positive for the hosts was a return to scoring form for Darren Bent.
The Englishman is coming off the back off a four-month injury that he suffered midway through the 2011-12 campaign and will be happier than anyone to be back amongst the goals.
Nottingham Forest 1-4 Wigan Athletic
Antolin Alcaraz: Getting into the swing of things
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Despite being relegation candidates up until the dying weeks of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign, Wigan Athletic have looked very impressive in these opening fixtures of the new term.
Currently eighth in the English top flight, Roberto Martinez's side now have some Cup momentum too, after their 4-1 demolishing of Championship Nottingham Forest.
The Reds are no pushovers either, and Wigan can cross their fingers that they'll come up against easier opposition in the third round.
Although a late red card for Antolin Alcaraz (pictured above) may have marred the occasion slightly, Jordi Gomez, Maynor Figueroa, Callum McManaman and Mauro Boselli all pitched in with scores to show that goals can come from anywhere amongst this balanced outfit.
While league success may be difficult for them to come by, a nice Cup run could be exactly what the Latics need this year, and they showed this week that they have all the tools to make that happen.
Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Fulham
Martin Jol: Down in the dumps
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
On what was generally a successful night for Premier League sides, Fulham let the elite down with a dishevelled and lacklustre effort at Sheffield Wednesday.
The Owls have been in fine form under Dave Jones but you'd have to argue that Fulham's opening to the league campaign has been even more impressive.
However, Martin Jol's side failed to move on from their weekend trials at Old Trafford and slumped to a second consecutive defeat.
Although the scoreline would suggest otherwise, Jol fielded an experienced Fulham team and several culprits looked particularly accountable for their crimes.
Stephen Kelly will be remembered in this game as the man who felled Chris Maguire to gift Wednesday a penalty in the second half, but the likes of Steve Sidwell and Pajtim Kasami failed to inject any sense of penetration through the midfield.
Perhaps that Dempsey bloke is needed at Craven Cottage after all.
Stevenage 1-4 Southampton
Adkins: Pleased with the result, Nigel?
Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Nigel Adkins (pictured) can go home a relieved man after trudging through what was looking like a difficult fixture at halftime.
The Saints went in at the break with the scores level at 0-0, but Southampton showed their Premier League class in the second period with what I'm sure was a touch thanks to their manager's words at the interval.
Managing to net two goals against Manchester City was no small feat and Adkins' men showed their potential for great attacking threat once again on Tuesday, poking home four goals in the space of 37 minutes.
What's even more encouraging for the Premier League's new boys is that the starting XI they fielded against Stevenage was completely different to the one they played with in the weekend loss to Wigan Athletic.
Earning this kind of success with so many different players shows great depth and character, something they'll need in spades to survive in their current league.
QPR 3-0 Walsall
Nelsen: Battered and bloodied
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Despite the two-league difference between the clubs in question, Mark Hughes will feel a huge weight coming off of his shoulders after getting his first win of the season against Walsall.
The former Manchester City boss has seen his QPR side criticised for their seemingly extravagant spending policy, but none of that will matter for at least a few hours now.
In a squad that appears to be in a constant state of rotation, the fixture gave some much needed starting places to seven summer signings who will all need time to mould around one another in this new-look QPR.
The Hoops were always firm favourites against their League One opponents, but a resounding win for the hosts will encourage morale nonetheless.
QPR may need to concentrate their assets on securing Premier League survival later on in the season, but a decent Cup run never goes astray.
Norwich City 2-1 Scunthorpe United
Tense times in Norfolk
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Despite grabbing the win in the end, Chris Hughton will undoubtedly have been frustrated at the lack of scoring chances his side created against inferior opponents.
Like QPR, this was Norwich's first win of the season but the Canaries had to rely on a second-half penalty to book their place in the third round of the Capital One Cup.
In fairness to Hughton, he picked a completely new starting XI from the one that faced QPR over the weekend, but this side still boasts enough talent to see off their League One opponents in smoother fashion than they in fact did.
After an impressive return to the Premier League with Paul Lambert last season, it's yet to be seen whether Hughton's Norwich City can produce the same attractive football at times.
Sunderland 2-0 Morecambe
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
James McClean continues to illustrate his rags to riches story in an emphatic way after bagging a brace in his side's first home fixture of the 2012-13 season.
The Irishman was a particular highlight for the Black Cats, but Martin O'Neill's men were on form from the word "Go", and never really had to move into second gear.
This fixture saw new signings, Andy Johnson and Steven Fletcher, make their Sunderland debuts after signing over the weekend and the duo were impressive in their own rights.
This will be O'Neill's first full season in charge at the Stadium of Light and it's common knowledge that the former Villa boss is a fan of cup tournaments, so don't be surprised to see the Wearsiders feature in the Capitol One Cup for some time yet.
Swansea City 3-1 Barnsley
Michu: Took the night off against Barnsley
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The "must-watch" team of the Premier league season so far, it's no surprise that some attractive, attacking football was on hand at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea City cruised past Barnsley to make their way into the Capital One Cup's third round.
Summer signing Michu remained as an unused substitute following his heroics in the English top flight. The likes of Danny Graham and Luke Moore were on hand to provide the goals for the home side.
Michael Laudrup will be over the moon to see some strikers scoring for the Welsh side, as a massive chunk of their goals came from the midfield in the last campaign.
That said, the Dane won't care where the goals come from, just as long as they keep coming.
Reading 3-2 Peterborough United
Pogrebnyak: A lot of huff, equal amount of puff
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Again, probably a harsh decision to peg the Premier League new boys as "villains" for the work they put into this fixture, but there's plenty of points to improve upon following their fixture against Championship Peterborough.
Following on from their so-close-yet-so-far heroics at Stamford Bridge over a week ago, it looked as if the Royals were still in dreamland, conceding two goals in the first 20 minutes.
The game may have panned out a little differently had Reading played their fixture against Sunderland over the weekend, but a sense of rustiness emerged for periods of the midweek fixture.
Coming up from a league that has over 45 matches in a season, Brian McDermott's side will need to acclimate to a different kind of stamina if they're to survive a campaign across several competitions.
West Ham 2-0 Crewe Alexandra
West Ham: On top of the opposition
Christopher Lee/Getty Images
West Ham recovered from a demoralising 3-0 washout at Swansea City to advance in the Capital One Cup with a comfortable win over League One Crewe.
The game held a substantial significance to both scorers; firstly, for Nicky Maynard, who was previously on the books at Crewe.
And secondly for Modibo Maiga, who notched in his first score since completing a £4.7m move from Sochaux over the summer.
Sam Allardyce is no stranger to how things work in the Premier League and the top flight veteran will have a definitive plan in his mind of just what is and isn't a priority for his club.
Whether or not a run in the Capital One ranks highly on that list, we'll just have to wait and see.
Yeovil 2-4 West Bromwich Albion
Baggies: Rising above the competition
Michael Steele/Getty Images
Steve Clarke continued to enamour himself amongst West Brom supporters this week after his side maintained their unbeaten start to the season.
The Baggies weren't always in control of this fixture but showed the perseverance necessary to make it through a multi-pronged season amongst the nation's elite.
Chris Brunt's long-range stunner in the 39th minute pretty much summed up the mood at the Hawthorns right now.
Following their win against Liverpool and a draw at White Hart Lane, the west Midlands outfit are flying high and are full of confidence.
With league form not proving impossible to come upon, it wouldn't be a shock to see Clarke's side make a ruddy good go of this whole League Cup thing.
Stoke City 3-4 Swindon Town
Pulis: Time to concentrate on the league
David Rogers/Getty Images
Tony Pulis' side have the unenviable honor of being the Capital One Cup's "second round super villains", after they slipped to a 4-3 loss against Swindon Town after extra time.
Paolo Di Canio's Robins did themselves proud but should never have been allowed to score a quartet of goals against Premier League opposition, and at the Brittania Stadium no less.
You'd like to understand this scoreline if Pulis fielded his reserves in a bid to give them some game time but his squad was one of experience who were simply outmatched on their day.
To draw after 90 minutes is bad enough, but surely a top-tier side would have superior fitness and technical ability to turn around their League One opponents?
The linked picture of Pulis' grief sums up Stoke's midweek performance more aptly than words can describe.