Hammers out of FA Cup after late Sheffield Wednesday strike
FA Cup Third Round: Sheffield Wednesday 1 West Ham 0
The Hammers crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle after Chris O’Grady gave a steely Sheffield Wednesday side a dramatic late victory with an 88th-minute strike.
Although Sam Baldock had earlier seen his second-half penalty saved and West Ham had hit the woodwork twice, in an end-to-end encounter, the industrious Owls had also shown just why they are unbeaten at Hillsborough this season as they progressed into the fourth round.
Sam Allardyce had already admitted that his eyes were on the bigger prize of promotion to the Premier League and, predictably the Hammers boss made seven sweeping changes to the side that had returned to second place in the Championship by beating Coventry City last Monday.
Only skipper George McCartney, Winston Reid, Jack Collison and Sam Baldock retained their places as rookie Ruud Boffin was handed a rare start in goal, while Danny Potts, Joey O’Brien, Freddie Sears, Gary O’Neil, Henri Lansbury and John Carew were each handed a starting place.
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With just five minutes on clock, Lansbury might have given the visitors a dream start but his tightly-angled shot deflected on to the top of crossbar and, shortly afterwards, O’Neil sent a 25-yard free-kick curling over the top, before finding himself needing treatment after receiving a spiteful nudge in the face from the inexplicably unpunished Jose Semedo.
Lying in second place in League One, the Owls had made three changes as captain Rob Jones, Julian Bennett and Jermaine Johnson came in for Miguel Llera, Ben Marshall and substitute Clinton Morrison, while ex-Hammer Stephen Bywater was on the bench, too.
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Last time out, the Owls had raced into a quick-fire two-goal lead on their way to victory over Tranmere Rovers and, on 12 minutes, James Tavernier wastefully fired across the face of goal.
And after O’Neil levelled personal scores with a shameless scythe on the Portuguese protagonist Semedo at the cost of a yellow card, Johnson had an even better chance to break the deadlock when he collected O’Grady’s perfectly-weighted, defence-splitting pass.
But after drawing the helplessly exposed Boffin, the yellow-booted striker somehow shot wide to the disbelief of the home fans amongst the crowd of 17,916, who had expected to see the net ripple.
In truth, the Hammers strike-pairing of Carew and Baldock were struggling to make any impact but after Danny Batth headed inches wide, Sears squandered a fantastic opportunity to give West Ham an interval advantage, when he only succeeded in nodding over Collison’s inch-perfect, 38th-minute cross from just a couple of yards out.
Just before the break, Collison had also seen his clever volley beaten out by Nicky Weaver but just three minutes into the second half the Wednesday keeper produced an even better save, when he dived to his right to beat away Baldock’s well-struck penalty after Reid had been upended in the area.
On the hour, Gary Megson introduced Clinton Morrison at the expense of Reda Johnson and Potts was soon forced to block O’Grady’s goal-bound shot before Allardyce made a change of his own with Frank Nouble replacing the casual Carew.
When Weaver rushed out of his area to hastily clear upfield, O’Neil summed up the standard of finishing to date, with an equally rushed effort that skewed away for a throw-in.
Seconds later, though, Baldock almost atoned for his penalty miss with a rasping angled shot that Weaver tipped onto the post and beyond the in-rushing Nouble and, as Big Sam went all out to avoid an unwelcome replay, Robert Hall and then debutant Brian Montenegro came on for the subdued Sears and O’Neil.
With Bennett being stretchered off following a goalmouth scramble an Upton Park re-match was, by now looking a racing certainty.
But on 88 minutes O’Grady burst down the right touchline before cutting into the area and drilling a low winner through the grasp of the diving Boffin and, even though there were 11 minutes of stoppage time, the Hammers – who saw Nouble sky over in the dying seconds - still could not prevent Wednesday from earning their place in the fourth round.
HAMMERS: Buffin, O’Brien, Potts, McCartney, Reid, O’Neil (Montenegro 77), Sears (Hall 72), Collison, Lansbury, Baldock, Carew (Nouble 65). Unused subs: Green, Tomkins, Diop, Lee.
OWLS:Weaver, Otsemobor, R. Johnson (Morrison 59), Batth, R. Jones, Tavernier (D. Jones 72), Bennett (Lowe 86), Lines, Semedo, J. Johnson, O’Grady. Unused subs: Bywater, Prutton, Palmer, Beevers,
Bookings: O’Neil (17), McCartney (71).
Referee: Keith Stroud.