David Moyes should unleash Jarrod Bowen in a striker position when West Ham visit Manchester United in the FA Cup on Tuesday night amid doubt over Michail Antonio’s fitness.
But Antonio faces a late fitness test to see if the striker can play his part, having been taken off with a quarter of an hour to go against Fulham on Saturday amid suspicions of fatigue.
Antonio looked laboursome at Craven Cottage as he struggled to lead the line for the second time in the space three days, after also playing the full 90 minutes as West Ham beat Aston Villa 3-1 on Wednesday night.
The Villans affair was only the third occasion that the 30-year-old has played a full 90 in any competition since returning from a second hamstring injury this term, with Moyes opting to withdraw Antonio early in four of his seven starts and twice introduce him from the bench.
Antonio was also left an unused substitute as the Hammers beat Doncaster Rovers 4-0 to book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup, but Moyes has confirmed he will make a late decision over whether or not the £11m-rated beast will feature against Manchester United.
“He’s still fatigued, so it’ll be a close call whether he makes it or not,” Moyes said. “I’ll see how he is today [Monday]. We’ll need to assess him tomorrow to see if he’s able to play or not.
“I think we’ve picked strong teams against Stockport and Doncaster. We’re certainly not picking a weakened team.
“We may have one or two changes through injury or suspension, whatever it may be, but we plan to go there with a really strong team and [see] if we can get through to the next round of the FA Cup.”
Andriy Yarmolenko was tasked with standing in for Antonio against Doncaster in the previous round of the FA Cup and scored West Ham’s second goal of the day, to net his first strike since bagging a brace against League One Hull City in the Carabao Cup in September.
It was not the only occasion this season that Moyes has started the Ukraine winger in a central role, after featuring through the middle against Tottenham Hotspur and in both Premier League meetings with Liverpool. He also took over the reins at Fulham on Saturday but offered little impact during his half an hour on the pitch.
Thus it should be Bowen who starts at the top of the attack against Manchester United if Antonio cannot, in a move that may also allow Ryan Fredericks to replicate his Aston Villa showcase on the right-wing in front of Vladimir Coufal.
Moyes has experimented with Bowen playing centrally twice this season, having looked to the £25m-rated maestro against Brighton in December while without Antonio and at home to Newcastle on the opening day of the season.
The decision did not return any goals on either occasion, but Bowen had proven to be a creative force in the middle with Hull by netting four and providing an assist in six games as a centre-forward.
He also offered three goals and three assists in six games as a shadow striker for the Tigers before his move to the London Stadium last January, which Noel Whelan lauds as a “really shrewd” piece of business by the Irons. Proving that he has the track record Moyes needs with no senior striker available after Sebastien Haller’s winter farewell.