West Ham beat a Stockport County doughty at the end, with Craig Dawson’s header preventing overtime and giving David Moyes’ side the right to face Doncaster Rovers at home in the fourth round.
The center-back’s rise in the rain, meeting Jarrod Bowen’s cross from a crowd of players, embodied a fierce tie on a swampy surface that could have gone either way.
On loan from Watford, it was Dawson’s first goal at West Ham. The 30-year-old was born in Rochdale and his career began at Radcliffe FC, a few miles from here in Greater Manchester.
“It was difficult tonight,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve played in conditions like this, but it’s great to score a goal at the end. The goal was something we worked on in training. The guys did a great shift and it was a great clean sheet. Stockport is doing really well in their league and it’s not easy coming to these fields – so a great performance from the guys tonight.
Stockport found this loss hard to swallow and understandable: Jim Gannon’s refusal to bow until the very end was in line with a weekend of great FA Cup action, and could have give them at least 30 additional minutes.
“The players are disappointed, but I think it’s a testament to the way they played,” said Gannon. “West Ham had a lot of possession but the guys did really well. They gave us a chance to score a goal and possibly win the game with the opportunities we had. It has always been difficult for us, but the performance showed that we were a step above this level [National League]. »
Declan Rice was the standout player, a midfielder whose box-to-box contribution ensured the Hammers’ attitude was right. It was England that created the first chance – a heavy touch giving the opportunity to skate along the right and cross. Said Benrahma’s skill took him into space and his shot cut through Ben Hinchliffe’s left post.
After 15 minutes, a volley of fireworks went off outside the ground, behind Darren Randolph’s goal, prompting referee Mike Dean to put the game on hold, and the resumption on game had an entertaining pace and quality lightning.
Andriy Yarmolenko walked inside and attempted a needle eye pass for Michail Antonio who was intercepted. Then Manuel Lanzini let fly and Hinchliffe gratefully grabbed the ball. Stockport center-backs Jordan Keane and Liam Hogan found a handful. The latter was the target again with a high ball and Keane got in the way. Antonio then looked like he was finally there when West Ham next attacked, but Mark Kitching bit from the left-back and blocked his foot on the ball.
The visitors dominated the first half but lacked a killer touch. This meant that Stockport was still firmly there and that Gannon’s singing – he barely paused to breathe – had something to work with for the second half.
When the sides picked up, the sky opened up as before kick-off. The surface was getting heavier and the question was: would this help Stockport? The initial answer was no as West Ham claimed a corner kick. But again, they haven’t capitalized.
Now Stockport has forced a free kick – but John Rooney hit it straight at Randolph. The pitch had become almost unplayable – the players and the ball were caught in the divots. A West Ham attack was blocked in this way, and as it passed the hour it became a battle over who wanted to progress the most.
Rice tried to lead the way for West Ham with an almost halfway push that scattered blue shirts all around him before he was finally ousted in the Stockport penalty area.
The prospect of a shattering strike from Gannon’s men remained: Lois Maynard hoped to do just that, but it was Rice – again – who stepped in, this time in her own region. For Moyes, there may have been some contentment in the app if not the execution of his players. The manager saw Dawson block a stake driver Connor Jennings, then Lanzini lazily relinquish possession: West Ham night, so far, in a microcosm.
The tie came in squeaky later time. A mistake can be happy on one side, heartbreaking on the other. Gannon tried to swap his focal point – Alex Reid – for Richard Bennett, while, for the finals, Moyes replaced Ben Johnson with Aaron Cresswell. Then came Dawson’s late intervention.