Kidderminster Harriers 1 West Ham United 2
Saturday, 5th February 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It was drama at the last again this week for West Ham United, but this time in their favour as a 91st minute Declan Rice goal saved their blushes to force this Fourth Round FA Cup fixture into extra-time, before a 121st minute Jarrod Bowen winner delivered the cruellest of killing blows to non-league Kidderminster Harriers.The home side led for 70 minutes before the stoppage-time equaliser spared the blushes of David Moyes and his side. 28 years after their only meeting, West Ham again escaped with a victory that will draw plenty of criticism.
At a packed and rocking Aggborough Stadium, the hosts came moments from one of the all-time great FA Cup upsets, a result they fully deserved after a committed and controlled display not only saw them create the best chances but mostly handle any threat West Ham tried to create. They were two minutes away from being the first sixth-tier side to knock out a top-flight team in the competition's 151-year history; there would have been no complaints had they taken the scalp of an atrocious West Ham side.
After an opening ten minutes in which West Ham looked to control the ball and get accustomed to surroundings, everything fell apart as the work rate, the desire and the dedication of Kidderminster went far and beyond anything the away side could muster.
Often with these cup games, upsets come from rearguard action and lucky breaks to scramble over the line. Not on this Saturday lunchtime; Kidderminster kept West Ham at bay with nothing close to desperation at the back and notable confidence going forward.
That confidence came from just how unsettled the West Ham midfield and defence were by the pressure the non-league side put them under. Striker Amari Morgan-Smith did such a job on Issa Diop that the defender, error-prone in the Premier League and at this level too, had to be withdrawn at half-time to protect both him and the scoreline.
It was his error that started the calamity of the first goal. A short pass to him left a 50/50 for the defender and Morgan-Smith. The striker flew into it, getting a toe to the ball and knocking it away from a languid and lazy flick of the boot from Diop that just brought the forward down.
A curling cross in at goal saw Areola fly off his line and get caught bundling only into his own player, as Diop failed to head away a ball he should have dealt with.
The collision in the middle left the goal empty and the ball bouncing down to Penny, who stepped up to it calmly and passed the ball into the back of the net to send his side into the lead and the fans into an eruption of euphoria.
You would expect a reaction, an onslaught, for West Ham to take over and play in a way that caused the National League North side problems as Premier League quality took hold of the game.
But it only emboldened the hosts and exposed the visitors. Diop was dreadful, even for Diop, whilst Kral answered all calls for more time in the squad - just not in the way he would have hoped. The midfield was lost, passes astray, battles won by the Kidderminster players over and over. On the ball, West Ham were sloppy and unimaginative, a less than pristine pitch an excuse for the odd poor touch, but not enough of one to shield them from warranted criticism. They were poor everywhere across the pitch, Johnson and Fredericks hampering attacks more than helping, Yarmolenko almost actively trying to stay away from play and Bowen working hard upfront but looking lost as a lone frontman. Questions in defence, midfield and attack? Thank god that nasty transfer window has closed.
Kidderminster had earned their lead, missing a good chance 10 minutes earlier when lazy defending allowed a free ball to fall to captain Austin on the edge of the box, only for the shot to fly right into Areola's arms.
The rest of the half was an exercise in frustration as West Ham held the firm majority of possession and did next to nothing with it. Kidderminster were enjoying themselves, snapping into challenges, trying shots from range, running at players yet holding off any West Ham attack with ease.
When the half-time whistle did come, the fans rightly roared them off with raucous approval, whilst The Hammers trudged off to what can only have been an infuriated coaching team in the changing rooms.
Two of the poorer performers were punished, Kral and Diop withdrawn for Rice and Dawson and Moyes looked to experience, quality and a basic level of footballing ability. Rice, of course, is West Ham's best player, but being forced to introduce Dawson when a goal down to Kidderminster could not be a starker message to Issa Diop about his performance and the demands of his manager. There will be some who hope to see very little of either substitute in a West Ham shirt again.
Truthfully, it could have been a host of players leaving that pitch. The substitutions were clearly meant to shift the approach, the attitude and the application on the pitch and drag this side back to life and through what was still an easily winnable cup tie. All credit to Kidderminster for their performance, but a Premier League side were still heavy favourites even with the one-goal deficit.
The difference was only in Declan Rice being too good to watch this side flounder around him; Fredericks still struggled, Zouma was still uncharacteristically shaky, Yarmolenko still floated around harmlessly.
The first signs of life came around the 60th minute, Rice breaking into the box and laying it across to Benrahma, whose shot close to goal was well blocked by brave and disciplined defending. It felt the first time West Ham had really broken into the area and threatened. Rice was West Ham's solution, he was the man everything went through and the midfielder took responsibility to be a part of everything West Ham tried to build. Down the left, Rice and Benrahma combined repeatedly and probed the Kidderminster defence. Benrahma was frustrating, but his effort could not be questioned. He never looked to shirk his duties and kept plugging away. In a game where others went hiding, the Algerian gets a lot of credit for going at the defence again and again.
On the right side, the combination of Bowen, Yarmolenko and Fredericks could age a fan 20 years, although one lucky break did give Bowen an opening, and his low shot tested the goalkeeper on the hour mark for the first time.
With that little burst of improvement all there was on offer for near 20 second-half minutes, Moyes threw on two more; Cresswell and Soucek replacing the ineffectual Johnson and Noble. The captain - who will have feared his last FA Cup game for the side was going to be a defeat of historic proportions - was neither good nor bad. He seemed the only one who wanted the ball, but too much went through him and then on to nowhere. His passing was relatively neat, but never probing, dangerous or particularly useful. Johnson never looked comfortable, but his failure came with more endeavour and threat than the abysmal Fredericks on the opposite flank.
The change helped strengthen a left side that was clearly where West Ham were starting to dominate. The play between Rice and Benrahma offered a threat that was missing elsewhere; Cresswell added to that with considered and precise passing.
But still, chances failed to materialise. So the manager, with just over ten minutes remaining, made his last change. Fornals was brought on for Vlasic, who worked hard but was short on quality. To his credit, he was better than Yarmolenko. The Ukrainian managed to stay on for 120 minutes of football, and if his general performance wasn't quite tragic enough, a dive when played through into the area under minimal contact put a fine point to an embarrassing display.
His one positive contribution came with three minutes remaining. Rice, again, went sprinting forward and round the left as he took on that job too. His pass to the edge of the box found Benrahma, who exchanged smart passes in the box with Yarmolenko to create an opening six yards from goal. It looked like he'd pass the ball in and spare his side's blushes, but a wonderful block covered the goal and saved the Kidderminster defence.
It really felt like that was the one chance coming for West Ham, but Declan Rice refused to be beaten. In stoppage-time, with heads down and little hope left, the midfielder went on one more run. Passing out from the back and wide left to Fornals, Rice dashed into the space between the defence and was rewarded for it, the Spaniard playing a perfect pass into the gap and in front of his runner. Into the box, Rice turned inside and beat one before smashing the ball into the roof of the net and saving his side the ignominy of an FA Cup defeat that would go down in history.
The quality of the pass should not be forgotten, and Fornals came on and made direct passes into dangerous areas with a skill no other West Ham player had managed throughout the match, but it was all about Rice. This was Scott Parker saving West Ham all those seasons ago, grabbing games and winning them as his teammates seemed to be against him. Whenever you think you've found superlatives for Declan Rice, he goes and does more.
It was cruel on Kidderminster. They had earned every ounce of their lead and there won't be a West Ham fan watching who thought the non-league side didn't deserve to make it through. Instead, the game went into extra-time and both sides came out to battle through 30 minutes more FA Cup drama.
The expectation again was that West Ham would come back out and use the momentum to finally bat aside their opponents, as proudly as they had fought. But one Bowen chance aside, blocked wonderfully by defender Richards close to goal, West Ham created nothing.
In fact, the only real moment of note was almost so obvious you could have written it down beforehand. Kurt Zouma stretched, stood on the ball as he made his challenge and stayed down, agony etched on his face. His knee had buckled underneath him and it looked like his game was done. The Frenchman came back on but never ran with any level of comfort. Thoughts of that January window came back again.
As penalties loomed, with both sides looking like they had accepted the lottery to come, West Ham went forward for one last attack. On the right corner of the box, Yarmolenko cut inside and shot at goal. It flicked wide off Bowen to Cresswell at the back post, who rolled the ball across goal for Bowen to knock into an empty net and send West Ham through to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. 121 minutes on the clock.
The final whistle blew and there was little celebration. These players knew they had been lucky, and it is to their credit that they knew the Kidderminster Harriers players and fans deserved consolation and respect for the match they had played. The Aggborough applauded their heroes, and they were joined by many a West Ham player too, all knowing they had escaped today and stolen victory in the cruellest of fashions.
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Player RatingsAlphonse Areola
Poor on multiple crosses. The goal was very bad, coming into a crowd of players for a ball he could not get to. But he didn't learn, coming out for another later on at chest height and fumbling it to the ground. Every step forward for Areola comes with another step back, and whilst it has been said before that Fabianski could do with being more proactive, his safer approach leads to far fewer moments of calamity.
The fastest feet with the slowest brain, Fredericks manages to make football look really difficult. He gets involved but doesn't offer anything more than pace. When there's no space to use it, he has no idea what to do.
Not a good game for Johnson, but he struggled with being on the wrong side. He does need to trust his left more, but he got into positions and made runs that Fredericks could not even though he was on his preferred flank.
Shaky, but he improved for Dawson's presence. Have to hope he was sent back on because they knew it wasn't a bad injury, otherwise we lose our best centre back and are left with Dawson and Diop again.
You watch him today and wonder at the decision making that led us to not bring in another defender during the window. He made everyone around him worse.
It was very similar to games we played before Declan Rice burst onto the scene. Mark shows for the ball, gets a lot of it, but looks up to find little movement and plays safe passes as he cannot carry it. The difference with Dec on was huge, and even then Noble was slightly suffocating Rice's space.
It probably didn't help that the defence behind him was rattled and couldn't take the pressure, but Kral struggled wherever he was on the pitch. Looked off the pace, which is not a complete surprise considering how little he's played, but this was a non-league opponent. For those of us who wondered why he hasn't been playing at all, this answered the question. Maybe he needs more time, maybe getting COVID has hurt his progress, but it may well be that he isn't suited to the Premier League and isn't good enough to take the pace of English football.
Another who did work hard looked to go and try to find the ball at times and can handle the physicality. With Yarmolenko flaky and Bowen lost in the striker's role, maybe Vlasic should have gone there. He showed again that he can handle dealing with using his body and taking the bumps with his back to defenders.
The only player in the first half who showed any glimpse of having something about him, even if it didn't work. He creates space with the ball at his feet better than most West Ham players, and today he combined well with Rice in the second half. Their partnership together down the left dragged the side back into the game and Benrahma worked harder than anyone to keep going when it looked not to be working. Not a vintage display, but the endeavour gets praise.
Made the least passes of any West Ham player except Kral, two more than the midfielder who went off at half-time. He isn't the man to play through as a striker and cannot find space against deep defences, so most of his strengths were negated. But, when a goalscorer was needed, he was there to poke in.
He should get credit for two moments that created chances, but all of that gets removed for the dive. Making the most of contact is arguably part of the game, but throwing yourself to the floor is not something West Ham players get away with. Every appearance he makes, you hope it's the last.
(Replaced Diop, 45) The only one defensively who did not look overawed by people working hard and the pitch not being pristine. Are you surprised?
(Replaced Kral, 45) With caveats that it was Kidderminster, this felt quite defining for Rice. At other clubs, this is what Robson, Gerrard or Vieira did to save the day. Moyes is right, ??100m would be a bargain price for the best around.
(Replaced Noble, 63) Basically came on and did quite a quiet job, being where he needed to be in defence, and getting out of Rice's way in the build-up as he pushed into the box.
(Replaced Johnson, 63) Not a stellar performance down the left, but a steady and solid one that allowed Benrahma, Fornals and Rice to play how they needed to. Then the pass across goal late on is perfect and a sign of wonderful vision under immense pressure.
(Replaced Vlasic, 77) If the pitch made it hard to pass, no one told Pablo. Came on to bring a forward passer with vision, which was completely lacking. The pass to Rice for the equaliser was perfectly delivered in precision and weight.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Ryan Fredericks, Ben Johnson, Kurt Zouma, Issa Diop, Mark Noble, Alex Kral, Nikola Vlasic, Said Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen, Andriy Yarmolenko.
Goals: Declan Rice 90 Jarrod Bowen 120 .
Sent off: None.
Kidderminster Harriers: Simpson, Penny, Richards, Cameron, Austin © (Redmond 78), Carrington (Montrose 61), Morgan-Smith (Martin 105), Hemmings (White 101), Sterling, Bajrami, Preston.
Subs not used: Emery, Lowe, Montrose, Foulkes, Lissimore, Bastable.
Goals: Penny (19).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the Match: Declan Rice.