A busy eight days got off to the perfect start for West Ham United as they booked their place in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup by beating National League side Stockport County 1-0 at Edgeley Park on Monday night.
David Moyes stated he would name a strong starting line-up for the tie and he certainly delivered on his promise. Darren Randolph, Craig Dawson, Vladimír Coufal, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice and Saïd Benrahma all retained their places from the victory at Everton on New Year’s Day. Ben Johnson, Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko and Michail Antonio also came in.
Aaron Cresswell, Tomáš Souček, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen were all available from the bench.
The two sides are currently eighty six places apart in the football pyramid and it certainly showed in the opening stages as the visitors set a quick pace to the game and were applying early pressure. It almost paid off when Brentford loanee Benrahma hit the post in the sixth minute following a great pass from Rice.
That certainly gave Stockport a scare but they then started to get into a rhythm of their own, meaning it was difficult for the visitors to find a breakthrough.
Not even an early firework display nor an injury to Dawson detered the Hammers from showing their Premier League quality.
Lanzini brought a comfortable save out of goalkeeper Ben Hinchcliffe, while Yarmolenko, Rice and Benrahma all sent long-range efforts wide.
Although the hosts were matching West Ham’s work rate, they weren’t really producing anything of note to trouble Randolph.
West Ham continued to create good chances and should have opened the scoring just before the hour when Rice produced a magnificent run and tried to fashion space for a shot but the home defence stood firm.
The Hatters then tried all they could to find a breakthrough but thankfully for the East Londoners, Dawson blocked the effort from Connor Jennings, while Ogbonna thwarted substitute Richie Bennett.
Having dealt with that pressure, Moyes made a double change as both Souček and Bowen were introduced for Yarmolenko and Lanzini, while Johnson made way for Cresswell five minutes later.
With the rain not having abated, it looked as if this tight contest was heading for an extra thirty minutes until the goal that the visitors had been searching for all evening arrived with just seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Bowen met a short corner from Rice and delivered an inviting cross. Dawson’s run was also perfect and he was there to head past Hinchcliffe, giving Jim Gannon’s side very little time to level.
With four minutes of stoppage time having been signalled, more substitutions were introduced, as Antonio was replaced by youngster Ademipo Odubeko, while Fornals was also brought on for Benrahma.
Proceedings finally came to an end on a night where conditions had not been the best to play a game of football, let alone a competitive one. It all means that the Irons can look forward to a home tie with Sky Bet League One side Doncaster Rovers which will take place between 22 and 25 January.
It’s back to Premier League business for Moyes and his team before then though, as Burnley visit Stratford on Saturday afternoon.