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West Ham’s FA Cup blushes spared by Diafra Sakho winner at Bristol City
Bristol City 0-1 West Ham | FA Cup fourth round match report
Stuart James at Ashton Gate
datePublished 2015-01-25 16:04:31
It was not convincing by any stretch but West Ham United ultimately found a way to overcome Bristol City and avoid the sort of ignominy that has befallen others this weekend. After warning his players beforehand to take note of the giantkillings 24 hours earlier, Sam Allardyce was relieved to see Diafra Sakho, a second-half substitute, meet Andy Carroll’s cross with a far-post header to secure West Ham’s place in the fifth round.
The goal did not arrive until the 81st minute and felt cruel on Bristol City, who played with courage throughout and looked particularly dangerous in the opening 25 minutes, when Matt Smith had two headers cleared off the line. West Ham, in contrast, were poor, careless with their passing and toothless up front until Sakho, who was making his first appearance since picking up a back injury on New Year’s Day, livened things up.
On for the ineffective Enner Valencia, Sakho clipped the crossbar with an audacious effort in the 75th minute following a lovely piece of skill on the left. It was a warning of what was to come. Carroll, who had superbly headed one of those Matt Smith chances over his own bar, showed persistence on the West Ham right to dig out a splendid centre that implored Sakho, totally unmarked, to head inside the far upright. The Senegalese made no mistake.
Allardyce, who had picked his strongest possible lineup, admitted that he expected his team to play much better but also paid tribute to Steve Cotterill’s side for making life so difficult for his players. This, however, was one of those occasions when it was all about the result rather than the performance. “Gladly we’re one of the bigger teams who are not crying all the way home,” the West Ham manager said.
Asked whether he had said anything to his players about all the FA Cup shocks, Allardyce replied: “Yes, I put it up. I said don’t be a victim of what happened this weekend. Don’t be another casualty and make sure that you are utterly professional in what you do today. Even though we didn’t play our best, we showed the ultimate bit of quality at the right time to get the victory. But it’s been a hard-earned victory and one we’re very grateful for.”
It is some turnaround from this time last year, when West Ham were third from bottom in the table, embroiled in a relegation battle and still licking their wounds after being defeated 5-0 in the FA Cup third round by Nottingham Forest, after Allardyce picked an understrength team. Seventh in the Premier League and through to the last 16 of an FA Cup that appears wide open, optimism abounds for West Ham fans 12 months on.
For City, who are joint top of League One – behind Swindon on goal difference with a game in hand – and 90 minutes away from Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, there remains much to play for between now and the end of the season. “We won’t be slitting our wrists because we just got beat 1-0 by West Ham,” Cotterill said.
The City manager was entitled to claim that his side deserved a replay. Inspired by Luke Freeman, City played with great intensity early on as they took the game to West Ham. Matt Smith, a towering figure up front, had a header cleared off the line by Mark Noble in the fifth minute and he had another attempt, from a Jay Emmanuel-Thomas cross midway through the first half, spectacularly flicked over by Carroll. Moments earlier Joe Bryan, after a neat exchange with Emmanuel-Thomas, had screwed a left-footed shot across the face of goal.
With West Ham unable to find any fluency and slovenly in possession, it was no surprise that Allardyce withdrew Alex Song, who gave the ball away time and again, and Valencia early in the second half to seek fresh impetus. The substitutions made a difference, in particular in the case of Sakho, whose far-post header took him into double figures for the season.
“All credit to our lads, we gave them a game,” Cotterill said. “The clearance from Andy Carroll was as big a header as Sakho’s at the other end. But it’s OK, we’ve got plenty to look forward to, a big game here on Thursday [against Gillingham in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final second leg] and a league campaign in which we’ve been doing really well.”
Man of the match Luke Freeman (Bristol City)