Diafra Sakho scored the only goal of the game as Premier League high-fliers West Ham dispatched League One promotion hopefuls Bristol City in their FA Cup meeting and after a weekend of shocks, the Hammers are well placed to end an already-successful season with some silverware.
Sakho’s late winner means Sam Allardyce’s side succeeded where Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur all failed, four of the six sides above West Ham bowing out in the fourth round and one of the others, Manchester United, being taken to a replay by Cambridge United. Rarely can a competition have opened up in such a welcoming fashion for the London club.
Allardyce appeared to recognise as much with the strong side named, each one of the XI arguably among the manager’s first-choice side. Andy Carroll has come into the team and to the fore in recent weeks but the Senegal striker has been one of West Ham’s most important players of the season so far, racking up 155
Sakho’s story has been overlooked in favour of the fairy tale unfolding at Upton Park. The 25-year-old had little experience of top-flight football before moving to the Premier League, his best spell for Metz coming in the French second division having found his feet in the third. But nine goals in 15 games for West Ham suggest Sakho is a natural.
The fact that Sakho missed a handful of matches due to injury but West Ham didn’t miss a step points to the depth Allardyce has to hand. Carroll’s recent form has rendered him un-droppable, and while Enner Valencia has only four goals in 22 games thus far, he’s been a success too. This is a West Ham side bereft of goals and attacking threat last year – to have three strikers, plus Downing, all impressing marks a major about turn.
Sakho hasn’t been free from controversy, particularly as he is missing the Africa Cup of Nations, currently on-going in Equatorial Guinea. Allardyce was critical of how Senegal treated Sakho earlier in the year and the back injury he suffered on New Year’s Day was reminiscent of the problem suffered on international duty in November. Senegal aren’t happy that Sakho pulled out of the Africa Nations but is turning out for West Ham and with his eye for goal, it’s easy to see why.
Senegal’s loss is West Ham’s gain. Allardyce insists the flight to join up with his national team would be too much for Sakho’s back to handle, but a run-out at Ashton Gate wasn’t. As Sakho approaches double figures for the season before the end of January, it might not be until May that his most important goal of the campaign is recognised. If it’s West Ham lifting the FA Cup at Wembley then the back injury and missed flight will have proven to be a blessing in disguise.