FA Cup Preview: Opportunity Knocks on Hammers Door for Underdog Rovers
It’s a game in which Darren Moore’s side have nothing to lose, but a trip to the London Stadium to take on Premier League West Ham United still represents an important moment in the season for Doncaster Rovers.
If the League One underdogs can pull off an upset, or at least show themselves capable of competing against a side currently pushing for European places in the top flight, it could be a confidence-booster for a squad of players currently down to the bare bones and in need of reinforcements.
A Team That Picks Itself
Moore had barely a team of players to choose from for Tuesday night’s victory over Rochdale, but he managed to find the winning formula nonetheless, handing AJ Greaves a full debut in midfield. The youngster is unfortunately cup-tied for this FA Cup tie due to his appearance for Gainsborough Trinity in the Qualifying Rounds, but it is to be hoped there is plenty of time in future for Greaves to get his shot on a big stage with Rovers.
With no new faces through the door at time of writing, Rovers will likely go with the same team that started in midweek with the exception of Reece James returning from suspension in place of Greaves alongside Matt Smith in midfield, and Fejiri Okenabirhie will lead the line looking to hit double figures for goals in 2020/21.
Above all, it will be a great occasion for the players to test themselves in an arena that is easily one of the finest in the country, although the lack of fans present will be a disappointment to them as well as the thousands who would have flocked to East London under normal circumstances.
Moyes Not Taking It Lightly
Ahead of the game, Hammers boss David Moyes stated his desire to win the FA Cup this season - an understandable ambition for any Premier League side. It bore true in his strong team selection for the 3rd Round win over non-league Stockport, but with fixtures piling up it is likely he will have to rotate some of his squad for this clash, and that consideration starts with centre forward Michail Antonio.
Antonio has battled hamstring issues for the past few months but has started the last three games – all of them victories – since returning from his latest lay-off and with Sebastian Haller sold to Ajax at the beginning of the month, West Ham are short on relief options. The responsibility of spearheading the attack is likely to fall to 18-year-old Ademipo Odubeko on Saturday after he made his senior bow off the bench against Stockport, although Jarrod Bowen is also a potential stand-in despite being more comfortable out wide.
Aside from Odubeko and young full back Ben Johnson, expect a strong line-up of international talent in claret and blue, with particular attention needing to be paid by Rovers to the ultra-talented Said Benrahma and technically astute midfielder Manuel Lanzini.
Key Battle: Moore vs. Moyes
The visitors know they will not likely be able to match the skill and quality of their opponents on this occasion but the tactical acumen of the manager is something that they will hope gives them the upper hand. Darren Moore has shown a remarkable ability to outthink opposition managers in League One, masterminded a tremendous rear-guard victory over Championship opponents Blackburn in the previous round and famously led West Brom to victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in his first month as a head coach.
Moyes for his part is a former finalist in the FA Cup, taking Everton to Wembley in the 2009 showpiece, and has managed at the highest level for nearly two decades now. It will be a fine test of Moore’s mettle against a respected veteran coach and it will be intriguing to see how he approaches the game from the unfancied Rovers’ perspective.
Rovers hold a winning record over West Ham (10 wins, 6 draws and 8 losses) but only two of their meetings have come since the club’s heady days of the 1950s. The two collided as Championship clubs in the 2011-12 season, and current Hammers coach Kevin Nolan netted in both games. He was the match-winner in an early season victory at the Keepmoat and scored again in the return match at Upton Park, only for Sam Allardyce’s promotion-chasers to be stunned by a James Coppinger equaliser.
That afternoon was a rare bright spot in a wretched season for Rovers, who will be without birthday boy Copps through injury this time around, but there is nothing to say they cannot spring a surprise and win through to a mega-clash with either Liverpool or Manchester United in the 5th Round.