David Hautzig's Match Report
Gillingham 0, West Ham 2. A Win Is A Win Is A Win.
For years, I usually treated both domestic cup competitions with an equal amount of fear and disregard. Our league position was so perilous so often I could not help but see those matches as pointless because, well, they didn’t come with points. Of course there were occasional exceptions. 2006 obviously comes to mind, but Pards had us mid-table pretty much the whole season so the FA Cup was a Get One Free with the already paid for EPL season. But then Slaven Bilic held up his hands, holding an imaginary cup when asked what would mean more, the FA Cup or a top four finish. I flew over that year to say goodbye to Upton Park and to attend the incredible replay win over Liverpool. If VAR had been in place we would have made the semi-finals, of that I’m sure. The point is, my feelings about the cups have been altered. I can’t say I’d trade relegation for a trophy yet, but in time you never know.
Gillingham came in to todays match unbeaten in their last eight League One matches. They dispatched Premier League opposition Cardiff in last season’s FA Cup, and West Ham have made League One in cups the equivalent of Liverpool at Anfield of late. So the table was set for another disappointing result. Instead, West Ham did what they were supposed to as opposed to what we expected them to do.
Gillingham started the match brightly, as one might expect from a lower division side on their home pitch. They won two corners, the second from a somewhat sloppy clearance by Ogbonna. Snodgrass and Lanzini shared in the sloppiness with a bad pass and a giveaway respectively. A free kick in the eight minute required a clearance by Haller, but Gillingham kept up the pressure and won a third corner. Suffice it to say West Ham started the game at a snails pace.
In the 15th minute, Rice and Lee got into a tussle for the ball at the top of the West Ham eighteen yard box, and the other referee named Madley awarded the home side a free kick. They tried a little trickery on the set piece that didn’t come off, but neither did West Ham’s clearance. Gillingham came right back with a long range shot by O’Keefe, but Fabianski made the easy save.
Harassment is a very effective tool for a lower division side with less talent than their Premier League foe. Hanlan used that to great effect in the 22nd minute when he harassed Balbuena into a conceding a corner, and then he won the ball back for a point blank shot that Fabianski did well to save.
The Hammers had their first look at the Gillingham penalty area in the 31st minute when Anderson recovered from a bad touch and sent the ball wide to Masuaku. The man on the left wing won a corner when Fuller blocked a cross, but West Ham did zero with the opportunity. Overall, our play could be described to that point as ugly and disjointed. Even with five in the middle the hosts dominated that area, and every single player in white looked like they assumed no work was needed to win today. With a strong starting eleven, it was hard to see where any impetus would come.
The biggest risk and thus worry about playing a strong side in a match like this, especially when your squad is as deep as a baby blow up pool, is injury. Right back is not an area West Ham are blessed with depth, so seeing Fredericks limp off was just the thing we didn’t want to see. But thems the breaks when you want a cup run.
West Ham 0
West Ham should have scored in the first minute of the second half when Anderson sent Haller in on Bonham all alone. But in what looked like a moment of overconfidence Haller strolled in and put the ball twenty feet over the crossbar. Haller looked at the pitch as if to blame a rogue patch of dirt for his ills, but he alone was to blame for the sorry shot. Moments later Haller had another chance when he was sent in by a long ball from Diop. It looked a lost cause but Haller kept going and one timed a shot in between the post and the keeper. It bounced off the inside of the post and across the face of goal. West Ham showed more urgency in the opening minutes of the second half than the whole opening forty-five.
Despite more time on the ball and more control of the match, West Ham were not able to get themselves in a position to really bother the Gillingham defense. Bad touches, slips, and other errant moves kept being the Hammers undoing. They had a valid shout for a penalty in the 66th minute when Rice was clearly held by Ogilvie while attacking a free kick from Lanzini. Where’s VAR when you need it?
As the second half rolled on, Masuaku and Anderson started to find space down the left. The gave each other early, fast passes so that whichever one was the recipient could get into the box quickly. In the 73rd minute, Anderson rolled a pass for Masuaku to get to at the end-line. He sent a low cross into the box that just missed Fornals, but found Zabaleta. For the first time in a West Ham kit, Pablo Zabaleta took a shot that ended up behind the goalkeeper and in the net.
West Ham 1
Gillingham did not roll over, and Hanlan won a corner in the 82nd minute. The delivery was cleared, but O’Keefe got hold of a shot that might have tested Fabianski had it not been deflected and slowed down. The Hammers won a corner of their own moments later, and if defenders interfering by holding and pulling on shirts in the box was recently deemed within the laws of the game, I didn’t get the memo. Haller was absolutely mugged trying to get into position.
Marshall worked the ball into the corner in the 89th minute and won a corner. West Ham cleared, but not far enough and Marshall was there again to work the ball back into the box. Haller in particular did a fine job defending the many aerial lobs into the penalty area, but Gillingham kept searching for the late equalizer and a replay.
Cue the joke about them being the only ones who wanted to go to The London Stadium.
With Gillingham searching and probing in added time, it was West Ham who broke in numbers as the clock ran down. Fornals was the man with the last word, rifling a shot past Bonham.
West Ham 2
Considering our recent banana skins in cups, we have no choice but to respect the win. Two wins and two clean sheets in Moyes 2.0. Hopefully the manager was able to use today to learn a bit more about the squad and how to make it respectable again.