Major Cup Shock Averted
It wasn’t without a scare but for the second consecutive season, West Ham United are through to the fifth round of the FA Cup after a winner in the last minute of extra-time saw them edge past National League North side Kidderminster Harriers at Aggborough Stadium this afternoon.
David Moyes named a side which included starts for Mark Noble and Alex Král, while Issa Diop, Ben Johnson and Saïd Benrahma were all back in the starting line-up, along with Nikola Vlašić.
Alphonse Areola did retain his place from the defeat by the Red Devils a fortnight ago together with Kurt Zouma and Jarrod Bowen. Ryan Fredericks and Andriy Yarmolenko also made rare appearances.
Youngsters Ajibola Alese and Armstrong Oko-Flex were also included in the matchday squad.
The visitors have struggled to go beyond this stage of the competition in recent years but did overcome the challenge posed by Doncaster Rovers last season and they were desperate to avoid another fourth round exit here.
Kidderminster had already knocked out a higher calibre of opposition in the shape of Sky Bet Championship side Reading to set up this tie and the hosts were hoping to cause another shock.
The Hammers had the first attempt on goal when Johnson collected possession from Noble’s corner but unfortunately for the travelling contingent, he blazed high and wide, meaning it was no trouble for home goalkeeper Luke Simpson.
Russell Penn’s side soon set about testing Areola. Sam Austin and Ashley Hemmings both went close but thankfully, the Paris Saint-Germain loanee dealt with both efforts well.
The hosts were coping with the playing surface much better than their opponents and went ahead with only nineteen minutes gone when a mixup between Areola and Diop meant that Alex Penny’s shot went past the goalkeeper but in truth, he should have done a lot better.
West Ham were rattled and the hosts then had another chance as they were awarded a free-kick, following a foul by Diop. Omari Sterling-James took responsibility but fortunately, Areola saw the ball sail over the top and hit the stanchion on its way.
There could have been more further goals before half-time but both defences prevented that from happening, as they dealt well with anything that either could throw at the other.
West Ham had the opportunity to equalise before referee Jonathan Moss blew his whistle for the break but Benrahma made a complete hash of the chance and Moyes knew he had a job to do in order to get his side back into the game.
The Scotsman made his first two changes at half-time, as he introduced Craig Dawson and Declan Rice in place of Diop and Král.
The alterations did seem to have some impact but the Irons were still having trouble finding a way through. When Rice set up Benrahma to try his luck again, Kidderminster players were in the way to deny him.
The East Londoners had a great chance on the hour mark. Yarmolenko’s flick found Bowen and the former Hull City winger ran into space and tested Simpson but the home stopper produced a remarkable stop to keep his team’s advantage intact. Bowen then had a second bite at the cherry but defender Nathan Cameron prevented the effort from crossing the line.
Benrahma then had his best effort of the game when he gave Simpson a real test but once again, the goalkeeper made another quite brilliant save.
Moyes then decided to make two further substitutions, as Johnson and Noble were replaced with Aaron Cresswell and Tomáš Souček.
Again, the changes nearly worked and it was Souček who latched onto Benrahma’s cross and tried his luck. Unfortunately though, he only succeeded in volleying over.
It was then time for both managers to make further substitutions. Moyes brought on his fifth and final change, as Fornals took the place of Vlašić, while Penn shuffled his pack as he introduced Devonte Redmond for Austin.
With time running out, it looked as if it wasn’t going to be West Ham’s day when Benrahma and Yarmolenko linked up before the Algerian sent an effort goalwards but it was easy for Simpson to Catch.
With very little stoppage time left, West Ham finally equalised when Rice ran into the area and was in the right place to receive possession from Fornals, he then got the better of two Kidderminster defenders before thumping the ball into the net, giving Simpson no chance.
Having got that goal, Rice then tried to win the encounter, thus preventing the need for extra-time but unlike his previous effort, this one flew wide after he was set up by Benrahma. With that, Moss blew the final whistle and as there are no replays in this year’s competition, the match went into an extra thirty minutes.
Getting the equaliser really sparked the Hammers into life and they took control. Bowen tried his luck from a good position but unfortunately, his latest attempt only found the side netting.
Benrahma nearly picked out Bowen again minutes later but Caleb Richards was in the way. Soon after, Cresswell tried his luck with a free-kick, which only missed by inches.
With ten minutes of time still to play, the Irons were denied by the linesman’s flag after Bowen had nudged home but the effort was disallowed after Yarmolenko was in an offside position when he played the ball to the winger.
Then, the East Londoners booked their place in the fifth round draw after Yarmolenko’s shot kindly fell into Cresswell’s path and the defender then played in Bowen and he had the last word with the easiest of finishes past Simpson.
After a tough 120 minutes of football, the Hammers have to pick themselves up and go again for a Premier League encounter at home to newly-promoted Watford on Tuesday night.