Kidderminster Harriers’ supporters could all but taste the fifth round. 1-0 up against West Ham United in stoppage time, the Aggborough faithful were in full voice as their team attempted to see out the victory. You could have forgiven them for feeling confident, as West Ham had failed to produce much in the way of clear-cut chances throughout the match. Those who bet in play certainly weren’t fancying the Hammers as the game crawled into stoppage time.
Then, Declan Rice seized the initiative. Picking up the ball in midfield, he drove forward with purpose before laying the ball off to Pablo Fornals and continuing his run. The Argentine picked him out again beautifully, and after a deft touch inside, Rice leathered the ball into the roof of the net to bring relief to the much-suffering West Ham fans behind the goal.
Their joy was Kidderminster’s heartbreak. After producing such a courageous performance for over 90 minutes, their resistance was broken. Players put their hands on their knees and stared at the turf. A silence descended over the home support, offset by the cheers of the now buoyant Hammers fans. Having been so close to a famous upset, Kidderminster would have to pick themselves up for another gruelling 30 minutes of extra time.
To the home side’s credit, they found their feet again. West Ham continued to put the pressure on, but as chances came and went, Kidderminster’s players and supporters began to believe themselves. If they could just hold out for the lottery of a penalty shootout, they might just have a chance of pulling off the upset after all.
The killer blow arrived in stoppage time of extra time, perhaps the cruellest stage of a match to concede a goal. As the ball bounced around the Kidderminster penalty area, it arrived at the feet of Aaron Cresswell, who had the simple task of squaring it to Jarrod Bowen, the forward making no mistake in seeing the ball over the line from a yard out. Cue delirium in the away end, and groans of misery amongst the home fans whose joy had turned to despair.
This was a tough defeat to take. In many ways, it would have been easier on Kidderminster if West Ham had simply run out 3-0 winners in normal time. To have come so close and then have fifth round progression snatched out of their hands at the death was a bitter pill for everyone at the club to swallow.
Nonetheless, Kidderminster manager Russell Penn was pensive after the match: “It is the magic of the cup, isn’t it? Things like this don’t happen in other countries. It is something special. I thought we’d get blown away in extra time but we didn’t. I’m gutted for the lads. They’re crawling around in the dressing room. It has been fantastic. To take a Premier League team that close to the fifth round…”
For West Ham, the result brought no real joy — simply relief. Kidderminster, on the other hand, can take a huge amount of confidence from their performance. They stood up to a Premier League team that have been flying high for the past two seasons, and delivered a display that players, staff and supporters alike can be thoroughly proud of. Their FA Cup dream died in devastating fashion, but they’ll be a stronger team for it.