From White Horse To Donkey Derby: Can West Ham Avoid A Shock At Pride Park

Even in the best of times West Ham are famed for shock cup upsets. Will the same fate await David Moyes beleaguered side when they face Derby County in tonight’s fourth round tie?

This year marks the 100th anniversary of West Ham’s first ever appearance in an FA Cup Final. A match that is etched deeply into English football folklore as the result of iconic images of PC George Scorey and his white horse, Billy, attempting to control the massive crowds who had descended on Wembley Stadium to witness its inaugural footballing occasion.

What is less well known is that the Hammers had reached that 1923 final by beating today’s opponents, Derby County, in a semi-final tie played a month earlier at Stamford Bridge. It is the solitary FA Cup meeting played between the two sides prior to today.

In a thrilling encounter, Sid King’s claret and blue army ran out as 5-2 winners. For those in need of a warm glow of nostalgia as an antidote to the current dismal and declining phase of Hammer’s history, here’s what the Daily Mail had to say about the performance:  

“West Ham have never played finer football. It was intelligent, it was clever, and it was dashing. They were quick, they dribbled and swerved, and passed and ran as if the ball was to them a thing of life and obedient to their wishes. They were the master tacticians, and it was by their tactics that they gained… Every man always seemed to be in his place, and the manner in which the ball was flashed from player to player – often without the man who parted from it taking the trouble to look – but with the assistance that his colleague was where he ought to be – suggested the well-assembled parts of a machine, all of which were in perfect working order.”

The Hammers, who were in the second tier of English football at the time, had made it to Wembley without having to face any teams from the top division.  In these troubled times, an equivalently benign draw would be the only route to an extended cup run this time around. The competition might have already seen several top names bow out early, but plenty remain who routinely have our measure.  As the 5th round ties will be dawn before tonight’s game kicks-off, it might be tempting to throw in the towel if we are paired against either Manchester clubs, Tottenham, or Brighton. And an in-form Derby will not be an easy obstacle to overcome in any case.

Derby seem to have spent most of this century staggering from one financial crisis to another and a points deduction and transfer embargo saw them slip into the third tier of English football at the end of last season. However, a lengthy unbeaten run now has them well placed to secure a speedy return to the Championship if performances are maintained.

The Rams enjoyed some memorable times in the 1970s, winning the old First Division on two occasions at the legendary Baseball Ground mud bath. Although they have only competed seven seasons in the Premier League, they have spent a total of 65 seasons as a topflight club – exactly the same number as West Ham. They have one FA Cup title to their name, beating Charlton Athletic 4-1 (after extra time) in the 1945/46 competition.

West Ham go into the game off the back of a seat of the pants victory over Everton last weekend. The Hammers were marginally the better side without convincing that any corner had been turned or that momentum was now with them. We can only speculate on what might have happened if the result had gone the other way. As things stand, we are likely stuck with the same manager and the same group of players for the foreseeable future. Whether they can cobble together the six or seven wins needed for survival remains to be seen.

It is possible, I suppose, that a surprise or two could be sprung before the transfer window closes tomorrow, but all I’m expecting is the arrival of the underwhelming Michael Keane. Sadly, we must pin our hopes on a slow, ageing, unmotivated, and injury-prone squad.

David Moyes will be without Kurt Zouma, Gianluca Scamacca, and Danny Ings when he makes tonight’s team selection, leaving Michail Antonio once again as the only fit ‘striker’. Will Moyes give Divin Mubama an opportunity? It is always difficult to know how well young players will step up but he looks to have an eye for the goal, good movement and the right physique. Has to be worth giving it a go – and not for just the last five minutes.

West Ham have a long history as FA Cup banana skin specialists. Only 12 months ago, they were lucky to get past non-league Kidderminster Harriers. It would only be an upset on paper if they went out tonight. It wouldn’t be the greatest shock and we’ve lost to far worse teams than Derby in the past. I’m just hoping it doesn’t end in a draw. COYI!