Stockport County 0-1 West Ham United
Monday, 11th January 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham United squeezed through to the fourth round of the FA Cup and a home tie against Doncaster, but not without hard work first as an organised and spirited Stockport County, as well as ample rain, held the Hammers at bay until an 82nd minute winner from Craig Dawson.David Moyes put out a strong side, with Johnson, Noble, Yarmolenko, Lanzini and Antonio the changes from the win against Everton and only spots on the bench for players from the Academy.
The heavy weather, flowing with rain throughout in true Lancashire fashion, made the pitch inconsistent and difficult. One patch would force the ball to skid on, another would stop it dead. It might not be fair to give it the patronising "leveller" term - both teams were disrupted by it - but it certainly inconvenienced Moyes's side at both ends of the pitch.
The only fireworks came from outside the ground, in fact in honour of a local lad who is currently hospitalised, with the game itself never really giving much cause to even edge forward a little in your seat.
It started with some cause for optimism, the Hammers controlling the ball, as they did throughout, and looking to find openings. When none for the pass presented themselves, they seemed confident to shoot.
The one and only real chance of the first 80 minutes, let alone 45, came from the work of Said Benrahma. A looping cross from the right was taken down well by the Algerian, who then manoeuvred space before curling a cute shot low to the goalkeeper's left. It struck the frame of the post and bounced wide, an early threat a comforting sight for the "cupset"-weary West Ham fans watching.
However, the early effort on goal proved a bit of a false dawn, with any space in and around the County box defended brilliantly by a well-organised and clearly well-drilled defensive unit. They worked hard, but it is hard to say they were ever exposed as non-league talents against Premier League opposition.
A Yarmolenko shot from outside that whipped just wide was his best contribution of an otherwise awful performance for the winger, and it was after the break for the fireworks - the noise either making it difficult for referee Mike Dean to talk to his officials or a perfect chance for him to get some camera focus - West Ham went flat.
In fact, soon after, Stockport nearly scored, Randolph punching a corner almost into his own net before his defenders scrambled the ball away. From there on out, it was a signal of the dropping or lacking quality in the performance of his team.
To their credit, Lanzini and Benrahma seemed the least deterred by the pitch of the Premier League stars, their quick feet and tight control enough to give them time and movement with the ball that others couldn't grasp. Antonio, starting his first game since returning from injury, looked to be hampered more than anyone, the forward with the kind of performance that really underlines why relying on one senior striker at the club would be as stupid as it is unsurprising.
Where the away side were a little lucky was that Stockport play passing football too, bucking any non-league stereotypes, and were hampered by the pitch whilst also having to find the skill to pass it through and round top division footballers. They were often given time to try it, Noble and, to a lesser extent Rice the only two who seemed to get aggressive in winning back the ball. The captain was one of few to come out of this game with real credit.
Struggling to get behind a deep defence, West Ham toiled with almost pointless recycling of possession. If you haven't blocked out some of our recent games against Brighton from Hughton's time in charge, it was a similar problem. Even with the gap in divisions, this team struggles to break down defences that retreat deep.
In the one moment they did get in behind, Antonio had no awareness that a defender was the other side of him and took too long to get a shot away before the ball was pinched off him. It summed up his game, the man looking unfit and far from sharp.
An Ogbonna header skimmed wide from a Noble corner, but the first half ending was a blessed relief to all fans, with the hope the game could only improve.
Those optimistic fools came crashing down to Earth in a second half that was arguably worse.
It wasn't until the 57th minute that anything really happened, Rice getting the ball inside his own half and just bolting forward with it. He got into the County area before eventually the four men around him crowded him out and got the ball away. It was the right intent, but it was never really matched by anyone else.
Benrahma and Lanzini soon drifted as far to the periphery as Antonio, maybe even as far as the abysmal Yarmolenko, and it is only fair to say that Stockport started to enjoy some control for a spell.
The first chance of the half was there's, working the ball into the area down the right before a well-struck shot was blocked near goal by Dawson. It may have been going wide, but Randolph was beaten and the defending to stop the shot was nowhere to be seen.
The hosts broke forward again soon after, forward Alex Reid not quite able to shrug off Ogbonna when half an opening presented itself just inside the area. To his credit, the Italian stayed resolute and never dived in, standing up and only intervening when the right opportunity presented itself. It was a good job Ogbonna had been selected, with the other three defenders looking very uncomfortable throughout most of the evening.
Eventually the call came from the bench and reinforcements arrived. Yarmolenko and Lanzini made way for Bowen and Soucek, a sign that those in reserve had not strengthened their case for selection in this match.
Cresswell then replaced Johnson, and with chief provider and chief aerial threat on the pitch, the play clearly became about crossing and aerial prowess.
The introduction of Soucek did lift the team a little, the big midfielder drifting around the pitch with an confidence he has fully earned since moving to England, and it seemed to perk up Coufal a little too. The two soon combined, Soucek darting to the front post and meeting a Coufal cross with a powerful header that flew just wide of the Stockport goal.
It was then Soucek's long ball that got the right back in behind the County defence, and whilst he went towards goal with all the conviction of a man who never shoots, his blocked pass resulted in the West Ham corner that finally broke the resistance of the home side.
Bowen took it short then received it back as he looped his run and got space and a better angle to cross. His powerful ball to the back post was met by the rising figure of Craig Dawson, the centre back flying through the air to meet the ball, head it down beautifully into the bottom corner and guide West Ham into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
A challenge in the box moments later could have seen West Ham awarded a penalty, Soucek darting beyond the defence once more and adjudged to have been tackled well. Replays were inconclusive over who made what contact.
Pablo Fornals and young Ademipo Odubeko made their way onto the pitch as stoppage time approached, but the game was done.
It was never pretty, but then passage through the cups is about taking that next step. This one leads to back to the London Stadium and a visit from League One Doncaster Rovers, both sides playing for the chance to face either Liverpool or Manchester United.
Now let us all forget that game ever happened and wait for the striker we desperately need to be brought in.
Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...
Click to view all West Ham United vs Stockport County match reports
Click to view all match reports by Chris Wilkerson
Like to share your thoughts on this article? Please visit the KUMB Forum to leave a comment.
Player RatingsDarren Randolph
His handling looked sketchy in the first half, but the weather was a nightmare for the goalkeepers. It improved in the second half, holding basic shots and crosses well and doing enough.
Until Soucek arrived, this was a lower rating, but his compatriot brought him into the game much more, as did Bowen's superior movement to Yarmolenko, and it was his cross that created Soucek's chance and his run that earned the corner for the goal. Looked leggy.
There was no space to overlap, so attacking was difficult for the full backs. Even more so if you're playing on your weaker side. He struggled a little at both ends, but this was a good test and experience for him.
A man who never looks too perturbed when playing football did not seem particularly bothered by conditions or difficult opponents. He got the job done at the back and just carried on playing how he plays.
There were a couple of moments he looked nowhere near a Premier League player, but one possibly vital block and the winning goal kicked that into the past and put a shine on his performance.
It was the kind of game that called for Noble. It needed graft and a combative presence, and it needed a leader who would not let this become another page in the history of West Ham's atrocious cup performances. It didn't really look like being a silly defeat, and he can take some credit. He also played good football, maybe the only one to ever try an inventive pass or something a bit different, whilst he took over bringing the ball out of defence as the team laboured.
Not his best opening 45, he didn't acclimatise to conditions, but in the second he came out with a bit more purpose and then made sure he was there in defence when needed.
In the first half, he seemed to adapt thanks to his skill on the ball. Drifted out of the game as time went on, there was just no space to play and no movement in front of him.
Anonymous after his early shot. Would drift inside and consistently narrow the space to play in, made no effort to get in behind and too slow to ever beat a man. Became a hindrance to the performance.
As with Lanzini, he did well in pockets of space early on but they were the only two players who seemed to be able to do anything at the skill level required to break down a defence. And with no movement, any inch of space he created was often just an opportunity to pass to a stationary player. Toiled in the second half and was lucky to stay on.
In fairness, it was his first start for a good while and expectations were too high. He is a player who needs time to get back into rhythm. But he offered nothing as a forward, really.
(Replaced Yarmolenko, 68) Energy, pace and delivery. The cross was fantastic and one that had all the power and whip to invite a header home. He also found movement to give Coufal space to join attacks.
(Replaced Lanzini, 68) Made the difference. Had an authority about him as he consistently got on the ball and looked for openings, whilst his runs into the box were a threat unlike any that Stockport had faced from a poor West Ham attack.
(Replaced Johnson, 73) Didn't really get too involved, but just the threat of his left foot and the delivery did create a touch more space. Should have stayed wider.
(Replaced Benrahma, 90) No time to do anything.
(Replaced Antonio, 90) His first team debut, but also no time to do anything.
Did not play.
Did not play. Other unused subs: Jamal Baptiste, Nathan Holland.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Darren Randolph, Vladimir Coufal, Ben Johnson, Angelo Ogbonna, Craig Dawson, Mark Noble, Declan Rice, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.
Goals: Craig Dawson 84 .
Sent off: None.
Stockport County: Hinchliffe, Minihan (Thomas 86), Keane, Hogan, Hitching, Maynard, C.Jennings (Southam-Hales 82), Croasdale, Rooney (Hinchy 86), Williams (Palmer 86), Reid (Bennett 62).
Subs not used: Barnes, Gilmour, J.Jennings, Stott.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Angelo Ogbonna.