West Ham United left it late but, thanks to Craig Dawson’s 83rd-minute header at Stockport County on Monday night, booked their place in the Emirates FA Cup fourth round.
Fifth-tier Stockport admirably stuck to their mission to reduce the chances of the Hammers at Edgeley Park, but fast thinking at a corner from Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen finally broke them down to lay down on Dawson’s chance.
The reward for West Ham is next weekend’s home fourth-round tie against Doncaster Rovers and they will be delighted to get the job done on a tricky night in the northwest.
On a soggy night at Edgeley Park, Hammers boss David Moyes appointed a strong hand, and in a quick-paced opening, the visitors served notice of their intentions.
In the opening stages, they played well with possession to bring their National League hosts under pressure, and with six minutes on the clock, they came within a whisker of opening the scoring.
On the left side of the penalty area, Rice hooked a pass over to Said Benrahma, and he took the ball down before moving to his right foot and aiming for the bottom corner. His radar was just off, the ball kissing the upright’s base-wide on its way.
To the credit of Stockport, for the remainder of the first half, they sat in their form with great sturdiness, forcing the efforts of the visitors to come in from range.
From the outside of the box, Andriy Yarmolenko, Rice, and Benrahma all drilled wide, while Manuel Lanzini forced home keeper, Ben Hinchliffe, into a safe save. In West Ham’s favor, the half-time shot count read 7-2, but Stockport must have been delighted with where those attempts were coming from.
In the second half, their determination to defend their target persisted and was in evidence when Rice drove into the box strongly with 58 minutes played.
The man from England looked to deploy his fast feet to make way for the shot, but a swarm of home defenders gradually crowded him out.
Stockport enjoyed their best spell midway through the half as the shot of Connor Jennings required a block from Craig Dawson before Angelo Ogbonna performed similarly to deny Richie Bennett the opportunity to test Darren Randolph, and the Hammers replied by introducing from the bench Bowen and Tomas Soucek.
Seven minutes from time, the former was heavily engaged in the decisive moment of the game, gathering a short corner from Declan Rice to find a better angle for the cross, and his delivery was fine, picking out Dawson’s well-timed run for the defender to plant a good header into the net.