This year just keeps getting better for West Ham. A fifth win in succession ensured they reached the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2016, and they now face a meeting with the winners of Sunday’s showdown between Manchester United and Liverpool.
Given how they are playing at the moment, they should fear neither. Goals from Pablo Fornals, Andriy Yarmolenko and the debutant Oladapo Afolayan, as well as an own goal from the unfortunate Doncaster captain, Andy Butler, brushed aside the challenge of the League One side here in an impressive performance that underlined the progress being made under David Moyes.
“If we can keep everyone fit then why can’t we have a go at this competition?” said Moyes’s assistant, Alan Irvine.
The fourth round has been a troublesome hurdle for West Ham in recent seasons, having been beaten by League One Wigan and AFC Wimbledon at this stage in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Perhaps wisely, given they have yet to sign a replacement for the departed Sébastien Haller, Moyes resisted the temptation to start Michail Antonio for the third time in seven days after injury. Instead, Yarmolenko led the line as one of seven changes from the win over West Brom on Tuesday.
Doncaster also came into the game on the back of an excellent run following victories in seven of their past eight games, including winning at Championship side Blackburn in the last round. With the veteran James Coppinger – who turned 40 this month – still sidelined, their manager, Darren Moore, made three changes to the team that helped them defeat Rochdale in midweek and stay firmly in the hunt for automatic promotion to the second tier for the first time since 2014.
Having conceded once this year it took West Ham barely 90 seconds to breach a defence containing Butler – a qualified referee and locksmith who almost joined the police last summer after two decades in the game. A lovely interchange between Yarmolenko and Ryan Fredericks down the right saw the latter pick out Fornals for an excellent first-time finish.
Doncaster could have found themselves further adrift after chances for Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini went begging.
West Ham looked in the mood, with Mark Noble setting the tone on his sixth start of the season and a stray pass from Butler just after the half-hour mark proved disastrous for the visitors. The impressive Saïd Benrahma seized on the mistake and played in Yarmolenko, whose dinked finish gave the former England youth goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe no chance.
Joe Wright came closest to providing Doncaster a lifeline from a corner seven minutes before the break but otherwise Lukasz Fabianski was largely a spectator during the first half on a bracing afternoon in east London. By contrast Balcombe – who was making only his fourth appearance for Doncaster having joined on loan from Brentford until the end of the season – had to be at his very best to deny Benrahma his first West Ham goal from a curling free-kick before providing another excellent save from Lanzini’s shot.
The 20-year-old’s next intervention was to deny Tomas Soucek twice in the space of 10 seconds as West Ham looked to put the result beyond any doubt. But once again it was Butler who was the culprit as Noble’s corner somehow deflected in off the defender’s shin at the back post to complete his miserable afternoon.
After such rotten luck, Doncaster could easily have given up the ghost but it was to their credit that they kept trying to find a way back into the game. Matt Smith – a Wales international on loan from Manchester City – struck the crossbar with a powerful shot from inside the area, before Afolayan rounded off a comfortable win that will have West Ham supporters wondering what this team might be capable of.