West Ham avoid FA Cup banana-skin with hard-working win at Gillingham
PUBLISHED: 20:50 05 January 2020 | UPDATED: 20:51 05 January 2020
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Hammers book place in round four thanks to battling display and goals for Zabaleta and Fornals
FA Cup Third Round
Gillingham 0 West Ham United 2
Patience proved a virtue at Priestfield Stadium, where West Ham United finally saw off gutsy, gritty Gillingham with two late goals to secure their place in tomorrow evening's FA Cup fourth round draw.
Victory had been a long time in the making, but just like substitute Pablo Zabaleta's first-ever strike for the Hammers, it was well worth the wait and, after the 34-year-old Argentinian had set David Moyes' men on to winning ways on 73 minutes, Pablo Fornals finally ended all home resistance in stoppage time.
Following their destructive, decade-opening demolition of AFC Bournemouth on New Year's Day, the 1980 FA Cup winners had taken no chances with team selection as Moyes made just three changes to the side that had crushed the Cherries.
Arthur Masuaku and Manuel Lanzini came in for injured duo Aaron Cresswell and Mark Noble, while Issa Diop returned in a back-three alongside Fabián Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna as Fornals dropped to the bench.
And all three members of that defensive trident soon found themselves conceding early corners as the energetic third-tier outfit quickly made their intentions known with their haranguing, hassling, high pressing strategy, while ex-Hammer Olly Lee also whipped over some awkward centres, before seeing his bulldozing run illegally halted on the edge of the Hammers area, too.
The Gills, kicking off in 12th spot in League One - 40 places below the Hammers - had made just one switch to team that had drawn 1-1 with Portsmouth four days earlier as Alex Jakubiak was rewarded for his late-leveller against Pompey with a starting spot in place of Mikael Madron.
On the quarter-hour, Connor Ogilvie forced the first save of the evening with a speculative 30-yard snapshot, but Lukasz Fabianski followed the effort all the way as it flew though the chilly Kent night.
Midway through the half, the Hammers keeper had to be at his bravest and his best to block Brandon Hanlan's point-blank shot after Lee had curled in his fifth corner of the game, and then the Polish stopper got down to deny Tom O'Connor's low follow-up.
In reply, Robert Snodgrass could only fire his free-kick into the Gills wall after Sébastien Haller was halted in his tracks by a tug of the shirt, while at the other end, O'Connor's right-wing cross drifted just inches beyond the far post.
With half an hour on the clock, West Ham's first corner of the tie eluded everyone in the six-yard box and, ten minutes later, retreating Ryan Fredericks pulled a hamstring in his quest to close down yet another home advance and that saw Zabaleta step from the bench, as Gillingham left at the interval edging the contest on points.
But seconds after the restart, Haller should have broken the deadlock when Felipe Anderson sent his strike-partner clean away, but with just Jack Bonham to beat, the Frenchman blasted his 15-yard effort high and wide into the Hammers fans sitting on the open seating behind the goal, before looking down at the uneven Priestfield turf.
There was more agony for the club's record-signing shortly afterwards, too, when his tightly-angled shot hit the base of the near post before whistling beyond the far upright and it was not a case of third time lucky, either, as Haller then saw Bonham pluck the ball off his studs after Anderson had cleverly cut back from the byline.
Having spent the opening half as a virtual spectator, the gallant Gills keeper then had to dive into the studs of Snodgrass ahead of clawing another Anderson cross out from underneath his crossbar.
Alfie Jones was booked for dragging back Lanzini and, when the consequent free-kick landed in the area, despondent Declan Rice's appeals for a penalty were turned away after the England midfielder hit the deck and, with the clock ticking, Moyes then introduced Fornals at the expense of Snodgrass.
By now, there was far more positivity from the Hammers, who having woken from their first-half slumber, looked like being the only team likely to break the deadlock.
Sure enough, on 73 minutes, the goal arrived from the unlikely figure of Zabaleta after Masuaku cut back from the left by-line and, although, Fornals failed to connect, the supporting substitute unleashed a low 15-yard half-volley that deflected in-off 'keeper Bonham.
Having netted his first goal in 75 Hammers outings, the attacking Argentinian again found himself in the Gillingham area, but having gone down under a challenge, all Zabaleta got for his troubles was a harsh yellow card for diving.
With Gillingham desperately pushing for the late equaliser that would force a London Stadium replay, they were inevitably leaving holes at the back and, with just seconds remaining, Haller broke forward before finding Anderson who, upon finding his route to goal blocked, squared to Fornals and he drilled home an unstoppable 12-yarder to seal West Ham's place in tomorrow night's fourth round draw.
GILLS: Bonham, Fuller (Ndjoli 85), Ogilvie, Ehmer, Tucker, Jones, O'Keefe, O'Connor (Marshall 78), Lee, Hanlon, Jakubiak (Charles-Cook 78). Unused subs: Walsh, Hodson, Willock, Pringle.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Diop, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Fredericks (Zabaleta 40), Masuaku, Rice, Snodgrass (Fornals 69), Lanzini, Anderson (Sánchez 90), Haller. Unused subs: Roberto, Reid, Ajeti, Holland.
Booked: Jones (65), Zabaleta (79).
Referee: Andrew Madley