Sheffield United got the job done in their 3rd round FA Cup tie this past weekend, defeating non-league side AFC Fylde 2-1.
Manager Chris Wilder was forced to make wholesale changes to his starting XI due to fatigue, as the team had only recently wrapped up a hectic run of games during the holiday period. Fringe players got their chance to shine, while recent signing Jack Rodwell made his club debut.
The Blades wasted little time before taking the lead on the afternoon, as Callum Robinson was able to turn in the penalty area and get a shot off that deflected into the back of the net.
They continued to dominate proceedings, and would double their advantage at the hour mark. Luke Freeman hit the post with a thumping effort, but the rebound fell to Leon Clarke, who finished off the move with relative ease.
To their credit, Fylde put up a spirited fight, and even grabbed a goal back with ten minutes to go through Jordan Williams, who beat the keeper with an exquisite chip. United were able to hold on, however, booking their spot in the next round as a result.
The Hammers had similar success in their cup contest, although it took a little longer for them to get on the scoresheet.
Going on the road to take on Gillingham FC of League 1, West Ham struggled early on, even though they had plenty of first team players on the pitch. It was an even affair in the opening 45 minutes, which led to some believing an upset was on the cards.
That would not prove to be the case, as the Hammers eventually broke the deadlock with 15 minutes to go when Pablo Zabaleta drilled a low shot that squeaked past the Gillingham goalkeeper. United would add another in stoppage time, as Pablo Fornals found the bottom corner with his shot from the edge of the area to secure the victory for West Ham.
Last time out
These two sides last faced off at the end of October at the London Stadium.
The home side would take the lead on the stroke of halftime, as Robert Snodgrass burst through on the counter attack before confidently slotting home past Dean Henderson. West Ham continued to create chances to start the second half, and really should have put the game to bed.
They would be left to rue their missed chances, as the Blades equalized in the 69th minute through Lys Mousset. A cross from George Baldock was poorly defended by the Hammers, which led to Enda Stevens heading the ball back into the area. He picked out Mousset, who did incredibly well to hit a first time volley that rolled into the bottom corner.
West Ham pushed on to find a late winner, but Sheffield United were able to hold on to secure a solid point on the road.
The Blades have been fortunate on the injury front this season, and that luck has continued going into this weekend. They’ll only be without backup goalkeeper Michael Verrips, who was forced off after picking up a knock in their FA Cup tie verus Fylde.
Things haven’t been much worse for the Hammers either, who are only dealing with a few absences of their own. Ryan Fredricks will likely be out for another month due to a thigh injury, while Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko will still unavailable for selection for the foreseeable future.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Basham, Egan, O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram, Norwood, Fleck, Stevens, Mousset, McGoldrick
West Ham United: Fabianski, Fredericks, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Crewsswell, Snodgrass, Rice, Noble, Fornals, Anderson, Haller
What to watch for
Can Moyes keep up the momentum?
Many West Ham fans were upset when former boss David Moyes was named manager once again following the firing of Manuel Pellegrini. However, the Scotsman has gotten off to a promising start to life back at the London Stadium, and will look to keep the good times rolling on Friday night.
His opening game saw the Hammers destroy AFC Bournemouth 4-0. Mark Noble grabbed a brace in the first half, and goals from Sebastian Haller and Felipe Anderson sealed the three points for West Ham.
That result moved the club out of the relegation zone and up to 16th place in the Premier League standings. It’s too late in the season for the Hammers to do anything major, but they’ll have plenty of time to adapt to their new coach before going again next time around.
A win versus an impressive Sheffield United side will go a long way in showing that Moyes is the right man for the future, but the Blades won’t want to let down their fans at home in a primetime matchup, which certainly make this contest one to watch out for.