Ashley Fletcher became the second West Ham striker to score in a competitive match this season when he finished past David De Gea on Wednesday in the Hammers’ 4-1 EFL Cup defeat to Manchester United.
The goal had little effect on the match, with the Red Devils blistering West Ham’s shoddy defense four times on the day. But for Fletcher, it came against his former club.
“The goal is definitely good for my confidence,” Fletcher said. “To score against those two centre-halves, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones, who I have seen in the team when I was here, was unbelievable. To score against David De Gea as well gives me a lot of confidence as well. I just want to stay in the team now and help them move up the league.”
The 21-year-old striker missed out on a breakthrough to the Manchester United first team when he was out on loan at Barnsley last season. Instead, Marcus Rashford got his chance and took it, scoring twice on his debut, when Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney were injured for a Europa League match against FC Midtylland in February.
Without a clear first team opportunity at Old Trafford, Fletcher signed for West Ham in the summer. He certainly has an opportunity for the first team in East London with Slaven Bilic’s striker troubles this season.
In the summer, Bilic admitted Fletcher and Toni Martinez could emerge as first team options in the attack.
"Fletcher and Martinez are prospects. Some of them can do what Rashford did for Man United last season, but to play a full season with them from the start would not be the option we want.
"They can emerge and surprise and amaze us and the league, like Rashford, but we are still looking to get a striker if we can, but only if he is a better striker than what we have."
André Ayew and Simone Zaza have not produced as strikers so far. Zaza, on loan from Juventus, will likely leave West Ham in January after a poor start to his loan deal. Ayew faced a lengthy time on the sideline, but is now fit to play once more. The Ghanaian only has one start as a striker, with other appearances as a right winger or a number 10.
It may be time for Fletcher and Martinez to get a chance in the League. Martinez has eight goals in eight appearances in Premier League 2 and the EFL Cup.
“Hopefully I can get a run in the side. The manager put faith in me at Old Trafford and I would like to think I have repaid him a little bit with the goal but there is competition for places - Andy Carroll is going to be back soon. It is going to be interesting,” Fletcher said.
West Ham’s striker scenario seems to be in a constant ebb and flow. Bilic reminded after the North Carolina RailHawks match in July that the Hammers have other strikers at the club, but Fletcher has remained one of the few fit options on it.
“We don’t only have [Andy] Carroll. We have [Diafra] Sakho and [Enner] Valencia too. Sakho was injured and that’s why he was not here [in America], and Valencia had a longer break because of Copa America.”
Carroll could be available this Saturday against Arsenal. Sakho scored on Sunday in the League against Manchester United, but could be out for a month or longer with a hamstring injury suffered in the same match. Valencia is on loan at Everton. The Ecuadorian has five substitution appearances in the Premier League and no goals at Goodison Park.