West Ham must keep the focus on the football amidst fan trouble

On Wednesday night, West Ham United face their biggest cup hurdle so far at the London Stadium. Visitors Chelsea are the opponents in the EFL Cup, a keenly anticipated fixture that will give the Hammers their first taste of domestic evening football in Stratford.

With West Ham's improved form, the game looks to be more of a contest than it might have seemed when the draw was made. In fact though, league form has never been a barrier to the Hammers' cup exploits, and most fans will have frustrating memories of good cup runs in seasons where they have struggled to gain points in the respective league matches. Much may depend on the relative strengths of the team fielded perhaps, but both sides will fancy their chances of gaining a place in the quarterfinals.

Unfortunately, matters outside of the game are grabbing most of the media attention. With the announcement of a "robust policing policy," an alcohol ban and enhanced security checks, the club are attempting to quell the trouble seen at recent matches. Although there has been a spotlight on the atmosphere in the ground, regular visitors will be more aware of the trouble outside the stadium.

There have already been clashes in the matches against Watford and Southampton, and even Saturday's game against Sunderland, a relatively low key affair in terms of fan aggravation, saw confrontation between fans. Police and stewards had to get involved as supporters fought after the game, tensions heightened by the 94th minute winner that saw the home side take all three points with virtually the last kick of the game.

Historically, the Boleyn was always an intimidating place to visit for opposing supporters, and decades after the violence that became endemic in the 1970's and 80's, the local police always took security seriously, even in the more enlightened days of the 21st Century. The policing of Upton Park had been an exercise so finely honed, most supporters were rarely able to meet opposing fans after a game. Following the trouble prior to the last match at the Boleyn, when the visiting Manchester United team bus was bottled before kick-off, some fans tried to confront each other after the game. The police kept the opposing fans apart easily however, simply creating a heavily police-barricaded corridor that forced the visiting United fans onto their coaches before trouble could erupt.

At the London Stadium, things are not so easily policed and the large concourse leading up to and around the arena, has turned into a melting pot of supporters. With no police presence inside the ground due to the lack of an emergency services channel, the club owners had become embroiled in a row over enforcing security and segregation. Teething troubles inside and outside the new ground have added to the problems.

On Saturday, sections of fans were unable to access their seats until well after kick-off and the melee outside saw thousands of others unable to push through to their own areas. This and other issues have seen supporters become increasingly aggravated. Meanwhile, poor form on the pitch has inflamed the tension further, and this has spilled out into the Queen Elizabeth Park itself.

It's a situation that both clubs and local police have taken seriously for the visit from Chelsea. Slaven Bilic has appealed for calm and for supporters to divert their energy into getting behind the team. With the Blues bringing 5,000 fans to the game, it will be interesting to see if the atmosphere generated in Stratford can match that of the old stadium at Upton Park. This will be an important night for West Ham. Whatever the result, there will be as much attention diverted to matters off the pitch and outside the stadium as to what happens in it.

A test for the club in all aspects perhaps; the Hammers need to let all the talk be about their football.