Dimitri Payet has made a habit of scoring crucial late goals. But this cruel winner against a resolute and composed League Two Accrington Stanley side might yet take on an unlikely added significance.
In delivering Slaven Bilic’s team a barely deserved victory to halt a run of four straight defeats, half-time substitute Payet might just start to lift some of the gloom that has enveloped the club’s new home on and off the pitch since their move.
Yet even as they celebrated a last-ditch winner in a game that passed off without tension, West Ham were forced to immediately start planning for a potentially volatile fourth-round tie against Chelsea on 25 October and a vital Premier League meeting with Southampton on Sunday.
“It would be too arrogant for me to think about Chelsea now,” said Bilic afterwards. “I have a bigger task to think about – that is how to prepare the team against Southampton.”
Outfought and often outplayed by an estimable Stanley side, down to 10 men and facing extra time, Payet was brought down 25 yards out by substitute Rommy Boco. Goalkeeper Elliot Parish, who had kept his side in the tie with two key saves, stood to the right, the Frenchman went to his left and Stanley were condemned to a defeat they barely deserved.
The Accrington manager, John Coleman, paid tribute to his players but wanted no sympathy: “If you give a foul away in that area with Payet on the pitch, it’s tantamount to committing suicide.”
Having lost their last four matches and with fans on the verge of mutiny over a range of issues with the move, West Ham laboured in the first half and went off to muted boos at half-time.
Accrington Stanley, nestling in mid table in League Two, more than matched their opponents throughout a flat first period and for much of the second.
It was only with 15 minutes to play that Stanley began to tire and West Ham’s trio of substitutes – Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio all having been thrown on in desperation – started to exploit the extra space.
Until then Stanley were far more composed. Amid a number of first half opportunities, Sean McConville broke down the left and Jordan Clark flicked out a leg to send the ball just wide of Darren Randolph’s left-hand post.
Before the game, the rattled West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan outlined a series of measures they hoped would quell some of the discord at the London Stadium since their move.
But it will not be here against Accrington Stanley, whose 700 fans comprehensively outsung their West Ham counterparts, but Southampton on Sunday and, now, against Chelsea in this competition, that they will be tested. Herethey appeared more bemused than angry.
Outside, there were reports of long queues resulting in delayed entry. They might have counted themselves lucky during a dire first half. Despite the desperate run of defeats, Bilic shuffled his pack and rested key men. The former Real Madrid full-back Álvaro Arbeloa and £5.5m Swiss midfielder Edimilson Fernandes were handed debuts.