West Ham assistant Alan Irvine felt the Premier League side lacked a cutting edge but was ultimately relieved with a 1-0 victory over Stockport in the driving rain at Edgeley Park.
Craig Dawson’s header from Jarrod Bowen’s cross with seven minutes remaining proved the difference in their FA Cup third-round encounter as the Hammers, 86 places above their Vanarama National League opponents, avoided a major upset.
It was a crucial goal in worsening weather conditions, with persistent and heavy rain leaving the pitch resembling a mud bath, which seemed to narrow the gulf in class between the two sides.
There's the goal West Ham have been searching for!— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 11, 2021
Irvine factored in the difficult circumstances but, on a night where a brief firework display just outside one end of the stadium led to a stoppage in play, the Scot believed West Ham lacked a spark up front.
“First of all, the main thing is that we’re through; secondly, we were pleased with the way the players went about things,” Irvine said, as he stepped in to fulfil manager David Moyes’ media obligations.
“One of the big worries about these kind of ties is that your players maybe think it might be a bit easier than we knew it was going to be and so we were pleased with the attitude.
“Our football up until the final third was good but we didn’t penetrate enough against what was a very well-organised and a very hard-working and disciplined Stockport defence.
“I did feel that we needed to start putting some crosses into the box than we had done previously, because a lot of the play, we’d been trying to penetrate by sliding things through what was a very compact defence.
“As it happens, the goal came from one cross that led to a corner then another cross that obviously led to a fantastic header.”
Said Benrahma struck the outside of the post with a curling effort early on and although the Londoners had the upper hand for most of the tie, they were unable to fashion many clear cut chances.
Until Dawson popped up to head beyond Ben Hinchliffe as the Hammers progressed to the next round – where they will face Doncaster – Irvine admitted he was concerned at the prospect of an additional half-hour.
He added: “We certainly weren’t worried about the attitude but certainly we were looking at extra-time, that was becoming a realistic possibility.
“It would have meant playing on in even more difficult conditions – for both teams, not just for us.”
This was Stockport’s first appearance at this stage of the competition since 2007, while in their last competitive meeting against West Ham, it was the Hatters who prevailed 2-1 in the 1996/97 League Cup.
They acquitted themselves well here and had a couple of half-chances after the interval but their attentions will now be on a return to the Football League.
Manager Jim Gannon said: “The lads are naturally disappointed but isn’t that a sign of how well they competed?
“That feeling will dissipate over time and they’ll feel they gave a good account of themselves, so it’s a cliche to say ‘I’m very proud of them’.
“I would have been proud of them no matter what they did, all I wanted was them to perform as well as they could, and they’ve competed with a Premiership side.
“We stretched them all the way. I’m a little bit disappointed but I’m really proud and pleased with the way we presented ourselves.”
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