In-form West Ham ease past Doncaster Rovers

West Ham United's Oladapo Afolayan celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal against Doncaster

West Ham United's Oladapo Afolayan celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game against Doncaster Rovers in their Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at the London Stadium - Credit: PA

There were no banana skins or tricky slip-ups as West Ham United booked their place in the fifth round with this professional, prolific performance at London Stadium.

Clinical and focused throughout, David Moyes' high-flying Premier League side rightfully treated the FA Cup with respect and duly received their rewards as they outclassed an equally in-form Doncaster Rovers team on their way to netting a quartet of goals.

With Pablo Fornals bagging his third of the campaign inside the opening two minutes, the Hammers got onto the perfect footing before Andriy Yarmolenko doubled the lead on the half-hour mark to also take his tally to three for the season.

And West Ham confirmed a last-16 trip to Manchester United or Liverpool after the break, when Rovers’ defender Andy Butler diverted Mark Noble’s corner into his own net, before substitute Oladapo Afolayan cemented victory by marking his first outing in Claret and Blue with a debut goal.

Tuesday evening’s victory over West Bromwich Albion confirmed the Hammers best league start to a season since their record-breaking 1985/86 third-place finish and – at the mid-point of the campaign - that had sent the Hammers roaring up to seventh spot.

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It also meant that West Ham - who won at Stockport County in the third round - kicked-off this last 32 tie amidst a run of four straight wins in all competitions during an unbeaten six-match streak.

Moyes made seven changes as club captain Noble, Ryan Fredericks, Issa Diop and Ben Johnson plus full internationals Fornals, Yarmolenko and Fabián Balbuena were handed starting places, while 23-year-old Academy striker Afolayan took his place for the first time on a strong bench full of first-teamers having a welcome half-term breather.

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But those magnificent seven new faces settled in seamlessly, taking just 90 seconds to get themselves ahead when Yarmolenko played in the overlapping Fredericks, whose right-wing cutback towards the penalty spot was met by the onrushing Fornals, who lashed the opener past Ellery Balcombe.

These two sides had never previously met in the world’s oldest cup competition and, while three-time winners West Ham had come into this tie in fine fettle, Doncaster arrived in the capital on top of their game, too, having seen off FC United of Manchester, Carlisle United and Blackburn Rovers on their way to the fourth round.

Indeed, sitting fourth in League One – some 41 places below the top-flight Hammers – Rovers’ victory over Rochdale on Tuesday meant they had won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions and manager Darren Moore made a trio of switches as Reece James, Jason Lokilo and Joe Wright came in for Elliot Simões, Taylor Richards and the cup-tied AJ Greaves.

Certainly, Fornals' strike meant that it had not been the best start for the Yorkshiremen and both Manuel Lanzini and then Yarmolenko drilled angled shots behind as the Hammers carved through the visiting defence at will.

Slowly but surely Rovers began to find their feet and, despite having two-thirds possession in those opening exchanges, Moyes men had started to find their chances limited for a while.

On 31 minutes, though, Saïd Benrahma sent a 20-yarder steaming though the chilly Stratford air into Balcombe’s gloves and, moments later, the Algerian ace’s defence-splitting pass then cleverly sent Yarmolenko racing behind Butler and the Ukrainian doubled the lead by calmly dinking an eight-yarder over the advancing Doncaster keeper as he raced from goal.

In reply, Wright’s looping header was gathered from underneath his crossbar by Łukasz Fabiański before James drilled wide from distance to leave West Ham’s two-goal lead intact going into the break.

Just after the restart, Balcombe clawed away Benrahma’s 18-yard free-kick down at the base of his right-hand post and, shortly afterwards, the Doncaster keeper tipped Lanzini’s scorcher from similar range around his left upright.

Next it was Tomáš Souček’s turn to test the Balcombe, who tipped over the Czech international’s dipping 25-yarder before then clawing his far post header aside for a corner.

Clearly, West Ham had not emerged for the second period just to go through the motions and, within eight minutes they had all but made sure of that fifth-round visit to Old Trafford or Anfield, when Noble sent the consequent corner into the six-yard box, where the horrified Butler saw the ball bounce off his knee into his own goal.

On the hour, Rovers almost found a glimmer of hope when Jon Taylor’s deep right-wing cross was met by Matt Smith but his rising 15-yard shot unluckily rocked Fabiański’s crossbar in his last act of the afternoon before he departed alongside Lokilo to be replaced by Richards and Simões.

With 20 minutes remaining, Afolayan was next off the bench, when he came on for his Hammers debut as Souček retired and the February 2018 signing from Solihuill Moors took just eight minutes to mark his first-team arrival with a goal.

When Fredericks sprinted into the right-hand channel, Balcombe could not hold the right-back’s low, angled, stinging shot and Afolayan was on the spot to tap the loose ball over the line to make it a glittering start to his career.

Having handed one player a memorable debut, Moyes then gave two other Academy graduates their first taste of first-team action as keeper Nathan Trott and defender Jamal Baptiste enjoyed late run-outs, safe in the knowledge that West Ham’s passage into the fifth round was long assured.

West Ham: Fabiański (Trott 83), Fredericks (Baptiste 83), Johnson, Balbuena, Diop, Noble, Souček (Afolayan 70), Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Fornals, Benrahma. Unused subs: Cresswell, Coufal, Dawson, Ogbonna, Antonio, Rice.

Doncaster: Balcombe, Halliday, John, Anderson, Butler, Wright (Amos 78), James, Taylor (Williams 70), Smith (Richards 64), Lokilo (Simões 64), Okenabirhie. Unused subs: Jones, Amos, Blythe, Ravenhill.

Referee: Robert Jones.

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