All-Premier League fixtures at this stage of the FA Cup do little to evoke its romance, particularly when it has been a mere eight days since the two sides’ last meeting and, unsurprisingly, this was no classic.
With 11 minutes left on the clock here at the Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford and West Ham seemed destined for a replay and a third meeting in three weeks until, mercifully, the maverick talent of Said Benrahma, well-loved by both sets of fans, stepped forward to settle the tie.
The Algerian, a touch surprisingly left on the bench for the return to his former club, picked up the ball after Declan Rice’s fine challenge on Yoanne Wissa in midfield and fired brilliantly past Thomas Strakosha from range to earn David Moyes’ side a morale-boosting 1-0 victory.
The strike came from a not-dissimilar position to the one from which Benrahma scored a sensational parting gift of a goal for the Bees against Fulham on this ground before swapping west London for east back in 2020.
In the seasons since, Benrahma has confirmed himself to be a streaky player at this level, capable of the moments of genius but also intense frustration. Few have felt the latter more than his manager: Moyes, you have often sensed, is still reluctant to put his full trust in the winger and regularly does little to hide his reservations. Chants of “He wants to come home” from the home crowd, leant into that suspicion.
This season, however, with the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta, Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca all inconsistent in terms of output, Benrahma has emerged as arguably Moyes’ most consistent attacking threat. This was 27-year-old’s sixth goal of the season, taking him outright second behind Scamacca’s seven in all competitions.
Only time will tell whether this win will carry into an upturn in League form, but given this was the Hammers’ first competitive victory in two months, it could also prove a goal that plays a vital part in kickstarting their season.
Lewis-Potter unable to take chance
Keane Lewis-Potter’s brief reign as Brentford’s club-record signing will end in the summer, after the Bees this week announced the signing of Freiburg’s Kevin Schade, initially on a six-month loan that will become permanent for around £21million at the end of the season.
Lewis-Potter, an England U21 international and one of the country’s most highly-rated prospects, joined from Hull last year but has struggled to establish himself in Thomas Frank’s side, starting just three times in the Premier League and firmly behind Yoanne Wissa in the pecking order when the Dane does seek support or relief for first-choice forward pair Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbuemo.
With Schade making his debut as a substitute here, competition is about to increase further but Lewis-Potter had only half-grasped his chance to impress before being replaced by the German.
The 21-year-old showed glimpses of his threat, making the first-half’s best chance when rolling Nayef Aguerd and crossing low for Wissa, who was denied by Lukasz Fabianski, and going close with a looping header.
In the main, though, he looked a player short on confidence, hesitant to commit defenders even when isolating the likes of Craig Dawson one-on-one in what ought to have been a mis-match for pace. Scahde showed exactly that with virtually his first touches, skinning the West Ham centre-back before being hauled back at the cost of a yellow card.
Cruel blow for Areola
Spare a thought for West Ham reserve goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. Having had his loan move from PSG made permanent last summer, Areola lost the early season battle with Lukasz Fabianski to be the Hammers’ No1 and instead has been consigned to another season as David Moyes’ nominal cup ‘keeper.
The 29-year-old was kept busy during the Europa Conference League group stage but has not played a game in two months, after letting in 10 penalties in the League Cup shootout defeat to Blackburn. Areola has since sat on the bench for each of the Irons’ League games either side of a World Cup in which he was the only member of Didier Deschamps’ France squad not to see playing time.
This evening’s cup tie was supposed to see arguably the best No2 in the top tier finally get an opportunity for some action, only for a minor injury to rule him out.