Bristol City 0 West Ham United 1
Sunday, 25th January 2015
by Staff Writer
"We're in the hat - and that's what matters", declared Sam Allardyce after his West Ham United side beat Bristol City 1-0 in their FA Cup tie at Ashton Gate on Sunday afternoon.Taking into account FA Cup results elsewhere at the weekend, it's hard to be critical of Sam's succinct summary - even if the Hammers produced a largely insipid performance in scraping through against a team two divisions below.
In the end it required a stunning, late header from Diafra Sakho - a surprise inclusion in today's match day squad - to separate the two teams and send West Ham into the last 16 of the competition for the first time since Avram Grant's brief and unspectacular tenure as manager five years ago.
That the Senegal international was even involved was a well-kept secret - and will almost certainly alert officials from his country's FA who are bound to question why Sakho is fit to feature for West Ham but not his country, who face Algeria in their third AFCON group game on Tuesday.
But the prospect of that minor diplomatic issue will be of little concern to the camp tonight after they avoided becoming yet another Premier League casualty in a fourth round littered with shock results.
Chelsea, Swansea, Manchester City, Southampton and Tottenham had already fallen on Saturday - at the hands of Bradford, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Leicester respectively - to open up the competition. And West Ham were determined to take their chance as a result - even if it was a mostly unforgettable performance.
A performance typical of West Ham in the Premier League away from home, United soaked up the hosts' pressure before striking late on - although many supporters will be wondering why they had to sit through an hour or so of dross before they attempted to expose the purported gulf in class.
To ignore City's part in that would be unfair, so full credit to Steve Cotterill's side who probably exceeded their Premier League counterparts in terms of effort and determination - but fell short of finding the necessary quality to break down a defence marshalled superbly once again by Winston Reid.
Adrian, the hero of round three could do little about a pair of first half headers from Matt Smith that had him beaten; fortunately for the Spanish goalkeeper, Mark Noble and Andy Carroll were strategically placed on the goal-line to avert danger when a goal/s seemed certain.
By reply, the Hammers' first half contribution was a couple of half-chances for Andy Carroll, neither of which troubled Robins 'keeper Frankie Fielding.
The second half began in a similar pattern but with the introduction of Sakho and Amalfitano (for the disappointing Song and Valencia), West Ham began to look a more dangerous, more fluid team.
Stewart Downing hinted at things to come just after the hour mark when he rifled in an effort that narrowly evaded its intended target, before Sakho grazed the woodwork with a volley that followed an outrageous piece of skill in which he beat his man with a clever lob.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, Amalfitano forced a diving save from Fielding as he attempted to curl one into the right hand corner. Whilst the 'keeper may have won that particular battle, the war was lost 60 seconds later when he found himself retrieving the ball from his net.
Andy Carroll, who had been anonymous for much of the game wrestled his way to the byeline before producing a probing cross to the back post. Sakho, having cleverly lost his marker flung himself at the ball, meeting it just in time to divert his header into the top corner of the net and give West Ham a priceless lead.
Fears of losing another 1-0 lead thankfully failed to materialise - despite the best efforts of Matt Smith, who went close with two more headers in the dying moments - and the Hammers held on to go into Monday night's fifth round draw.
Of the teams above West Ham in the Premier League currently, only Manchester United and Arsenal remain in this year's FA Cup. It is therefore no surprise that Allardyce, who fielded arguably his strongest XI against City, believes this is a competition he can win.
* Today's was the first FA Cup match Big Sam has won in regulation time since becoming West Ham's manager in 2011.
Defeats against Sheffield Wednesday (2011), Man Utd (2012) and Nottingham Forest (2013) were followed by the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Everton a fortnight ago.
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Player RatingsAdrian San Miguel del Castillo
Rarely called upon, this was one of the easier days Adrian will enjoy - although his command of his area remains a slight concern.
With a three-pronged attack for much of the game Jenks was rarely afforded license to roam with defensive duties at the forefront. There, he was solid enough.
As per his fellow full-back, although he troubled City's defence slightly more.
Sound as a pound. Made several vital interceptions and headers.
The finesse of Reid eventually shone through despite this being a game perhaps more suited to the no-nonsense approach of James Collins. Only once was he beaten by the giant 6'6" Smith.
Fairly ineffective, certainly below his usual excellent standard in a game you'd expect him to shine in.
His recent slump in form hit a new low today with his worst performance since arriving at West Ham. Too many passes went astray and he looked less than 100 per cent fit.
No more effective than his two fellow central midfielders. Credit though for his involvement in the goal - and the way he took a rocket of a pass on the chest.
Once again shunted out wide and far less involved as a result. Once chance left City's 'keeper grasping at thin air but there were few signs of his excellent recent form.
The big man was anonymous for large spells - yet came up with a goal-line clearance and an assist for the goal.
Once again Enner struggled with a wide role, when he is clearly more comfortable playing as a central striker. Still kept the City defence on their toes, though.
(replaced Valencia) Well they kept that one quiet! And what a way to announce your return from injury - one rasping volley that grazed the crossbar and a brilliant header to win the game.
(replaced Song) Disappointing, in a game you'd expect his trickery and guile to flourish. Usually a good impact sub. Morgan failed to trouble City's defence and spent much of the game being admonished by Jenkinson for not tracking back.
(replaced Nolan) Thrown in as a third centre-half, I can't recall him touching the ball.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Alex Song, Kevin Nolan, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Diafra Sakho 81 .
Booked: Kevin Nolan 78 Mark Noble 80 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Bristol City: .
Subs not used: .
Sent off: None.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the Match: Diafra Sakho.