Mark Noble lit up the stage as West Ham United beat Doncaster Rovers 4-0 to book their place in the FA Cup fifth round and secure a trip to either Liverpool or Manchester United.
Strikes from Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko gifted David Moyes’ side a controlling lead in the first-half, before an unfortunate own goal from Andy Butler and a late hit from Oladapo Afolayan ensured the London Stadium natives would avoid an upset at home to their League One opposition.
The Hammers rarely looked likely to stumble in their Saturday afternoon showdown, as they extended their fine run of form to five-straight wins across all competitions. It is also the first time since winning six-in-a-row back in 2012 that the Premier League outfit have won five on the bounce.
Moyes recalled Noble to his midfield for the FA Cup tie as he sought to afford Declan Rice a rare break, with the England international having started all but two of West Ham’s previous fixtures this season and each since September’s Carabao Cup victory over Hull City.
Noble has rarely featured in any competition this term, with the £4m-rated veteran’s starting role only his sixth inclusion in an opening line-up over 12 appearances to date, in what is likely to be his final season in professional football.
Moyes’ decision never seemed questionable with Noble offering a calm head in possession to help dictate the flow of play, and often dropping between centre-halves Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop to allow full-backs Ben Johnson and Ryan Fredericks to push forward.
Noble’s vision frequently carved Doncaster apart, too, with the £50,000-per-week maestro providing an array of delicate and precise passes to either play his Irons teammates through or stretch the visiting Donny side.
It was additionally Noble’s right-wing corner that led to Butler inadvertently sending the ball over Ellery Balcombe’s line, while causing problems with his dangerous play in the closing stages as West Ham never let their foot off the throttle.
Noble ultimately ended the fourth round win over Doncaster Rovers having taken a colossal game-high 162 touches – 62 more than the next-best efforts of Johnson, per WhoScored.
He also played significantly more passes than any other player for either side, with a match-high 154 total attempts – Manuel Lanzini ranked second with 82. Of his passes, Noble completed 148 for a 96% success rate, including playing one of West Ham’s 14 key balls after feeding Lanzini to shoot on the stroke of half-time.
Noble has previously been criticised for taking “too many” touches by Irons icon Frank McAvennie, who suggested the 33-year-old had begun to hold Rice back with his time spent in possession.
That was never the case beside Tomas Soucek in the FA Cup, with Noble playing with his head up to carry play forward from the back and ensure West Ham remained on the front foot on a day they rarely had to get out of first gear.
Doncaster found Noble a tough object to avoid when in possession, though, as he attempted a joint-game-high three tackles and registered two interceptions, for the same total defensive output as Moyes witnessed Balbuena produce.
Noble’s efforts may not see that he earns a start when West Ham visit London rivals Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but his performance proved there’s more than just a little bit of life left in the old dog yet.