West Ham overcame a spirited performance from League One side Gillingham to advance to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Gillingham’s Brandon Hanlan’s fierce effort was well saved at close range by Hammers goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. But West Ham improved, with Sebastien Haller hitting the inside of the post after wasting an earlier one-on-one.
Pablo Zabaleta scored with a low strike 16 minutes from the end before Pablo Fornals added a second in injury-time.
West Ham get through tricky task
Several Premier League teams this weekend have made a large number of changes in order to rotate their squads and rest key players. However, Hammers boss David Moyes, in only his second game in charge since returning to the club, only made three changes as he looked to overcome a Gillingham side sitting 12th in League One.
That did not stop the hosts, playing at a packed Priestfield Stadium, from performing well against a team ranked 40 places above them in the English football pyramid; the Gills were a constant threat from corners, long throws and free-kicks.
West Ham did not have a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes and a bad half got even worse for them when defender Ryan Fredericks had to go off because of a hamstring injury, replaced by Zabaleta, an FA Cup winner with Manchester City in 2011.
Within 21 seconds of the restart, Haller should have put his side ahead when he only had goalkeeper Jack Bonham to beat, but the Frenchman made a complete mess of the chance, shooting high and wide. The striker then hit the inside of the post after a poor backpass from Jack Tucker minutes later.
Bonham did well to hold on to a deflected Manuel Lanzini effort and then claw out a goalbound cross from Felipe Anderson as the visitors pushed for a goal. They got it in the 74th minute as Arthur Masuaku burst forward down the left and his pull-back found Zabaleta, whose shot went through Bonham’s attempt to stop it and into the net.
Gillingham’s Stuart O’Keefe had a chance to force a replay but his volley from the edge of the penalty area was well held by Fabianski. With the hosts pushing men forward, they were then caught out by a counter attack in the 94th minute, as Fornals blasted past Bonham to seal West Ham’s victory.
West Ham boss David Moyes, speaking to BBC Sport: “We’re really thrilled. These games have caused us difficulty over the years and Gillingham nearly did that again – they were really good, really competitive, hard to play against but we had a bit of quality.
“At half-time, I was more disappointed that we had not tried to play enough and not got the ball down enough. The defenders were slashing at clearances and did not show enough composure but it was always going to be this type of game.
“Great credit to the players – they stuck at it and showed great resilience. I thought Steve’s team did very well and they will think they were a bit unlucky but I thought we could score again on the break.”