Cheltenham Town produced a solid performance but couldn't quite take West Ham all the way in a fascinating 2-1 defeat this evening.
West Ham will progress through into the third round of the Capital One Cup courtesy of goals from Ricardo Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison but Matt Richards' cool spot kick handed the Robins a very real chance of a cup upset. Mark Yates' men admirably battled away but they couldn't find the defining touch and they eventually lost the game. West Ham progress but the real story of this 90 minutes was the performance of Cheltenham Town.
The Robins had performed admirably for the majority of the first half and they were shocked on 42 minutes when a Ricardo Vaz Te freekick punished them close the half time. West Ham strengthened their position further with Ravel Morrison's first goal for the club immediately after the break but the Robins battled back and secured a glimmer of hope when McGlashan was felled in the area and Richards dispatched a spot kick.
A first competitive meeting between both clubs and although West Ham named a completely changed side from their 0-0 draw versus Newcastle, the task in front of the Robins was a big one. Romanian international captain Razvan Rat made his debut as did Ravel Morrison and there was also a start for former England international Joe Cole. Cheltenham named two changes in their starting side with Crystal Palace loanee Ryan Inniss making his Cheltenham and senior debut in place of Troy Brown who was still sore with injury. Jermaine McGlashan also repalced Steven Gillespie with Cheltenham forming into a 4-5-1 formation. McGlashan of course came here in 2011 with fis former club Aldershot Town and they beat the Hammers 2-1 to record a major cup upset but the question was now whether Cheltenham could do the same.
It was a tremendous atmosphere at the Boleyn Ground as kick off approached with the West Ham fans in full voice but the Cheltenham fans were doing their bit as well. The first action of the game cane with a Matt Richards freekick but the Hammers backline were confident enough to clear from danger. The Premier League hosts had t heir own freekick opportunity minutes later when Joe Cole and Braham-Barrett collided but Taylor's thumping effort was well saved by Scott Brown. Cheltenham were handed a setback when Ryan Inniss took a blow to the face in the air and he had to be taken down the tunnel to be patched up leaving the ten Robins behind to make do with a one man disadvantage. The big man soon returned and just in time as Cheltenham were handed a central freekick 25 yards from goal after Alou Diarra was adjudged to have unfairly blocked play. Matt Richards stepped up but his set piece was high over the bar and into the stand but this was a positive start for the Robins.
A long range effort from Matt Richards after 20 minutes may have flashed wide but it emphasised a solid start for the Robins who were more than matching West Ham in the early stages. The continued to press West Ham but the hosts weren't without their chances and it needed some good defending from Braham-Barrett to deny Chambers an effort with a strong overlapping run into the Cheltenham area. Sam Allardyce was dealt a blow on 35 minutes when Diarra was down once again but in need of a stretcher this time indicating his game was over. Minutes later and the Hammers could have had a penalty after Ravel Morrison burst into the area only to go down as if he was tripped. The home fans screamed for a penalty but the referee instead showed the striker a yellow card for simulation. It was an entertaining match and Cheltenham almost had their dream start after a succession of superb passes which led to Russ Penn's long range shot but the effort was inches over the bar.
It was however West Ham that drew first blood despite the best efforts of Cheltenham. A foul by Russ Penn handed the Hammers a dangerous freekick in a central area and Ricardo Vaz Te stepped up to curl in an unstoppable shot past Brown. The Robins goalkeeper stood no chance and it was a bitter and perhaps an undeserved blow for Mark Yates' men.
Efforts from Tomkins and Diame finished the half with the Hammers on top but the whistle was blown on a strong 45 minutes for Cheltenham and a goal very much against the run of play.
Half Time: West Ham United 1-0 Cheltenham Town
Mark Yates will have been delighted with the work rate and performance of his players in the first half and he got his chance to address them at the break with 45 minutes left to get back into the game. West Ham made one alteration with Stewart Downing replacing Joe Cole at the break and it didn't take long for the Hammers to further strengthen their grip on this match. Some neat passing play allowed Ravel Morrison to find some room 20 yards from goal and his snap shot evaded Brown and found the bottom corner. 2-0 to West Ham and a worst possible start from the Robins.
West Ham had their tails up and Cheltenham fans could have feared the worst but Scott Brown denied the Hammers a third on 52 minutes with a point blank save from the head of Vaz Te. The Hammers came close yet again just one minute later with the Portuguese striker coming agonisingly close once again after beating Braham-Barrett in the air but his header was wide of the post. A Sam Deering freekick brought about a minute of hope for the Robins on 55 minutes but the set pieces was well wide and the Hammers continued to press. Cheltenham were still playing well despite the major setback and Jermaine McGlashan helped his side back into the game after being flattened by the goalkeeper. The speedy winger collided with Adrian but managed to squeeze the ball in towards goal and as West Ham cleared the goal line the referee brought it back for a spot kick. The boos rung around the Boleyn Ground as Matt Richards stepped up but he showed no fear as he calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner to drag the Robins back into the game.
You couldn't take your eyes off this game and both defences were now alert as each side went back and forth with several attacks. Steve Elliott was booked for a rather blatant pull on Vaz Te, Byron Harrison was introduced at the expense of Sam Deering and George McCartney headed over from Downing's freekick as then tension rose. Matt Taylor was next up for the Hammers with a chance he really should have out away on 66 minutes. Taylor swept his marker away before dragging a shot wide of Brown's goal and the Robins continued to hold their own. The Hammers had stepped up their game with Downing now putting in a barrage of crosses into the area only for Steve Elliott's head to provide the brick wall Cheltenham needed. Long range efforts from Harrison and Penn threatened the West Ham goal but Jack Collinson could have finished the game on 75 minutes had it not been for Brown's superb save at his near post.
17 year-old Zack Kotwica was handed a memory he wouldn't forget in a hurry as he replaced Terry Gornell with 15 minutes remaining. The young winger was immediately on the attack but his shot on goal seconds after making his appearances was wide of goal. Ashley Vincent was Mark Yates' final change as he replaced Russell Penn and the Robins now needed a quick response if they were to cause an upset here. Byron Harrison came so close to making that happen after Lowe's long throw dropped nicely onto his toe but the effort was agonisingly wide of the near post and Cheltenham's search continued.
They huffed and puffed but couldn't find a way through and the full time whistle blew upon a night of great memories although a disappointing defeat at the hand of Premier League opposition. Cheltenham could be and should be proud after a strong performance at the Boleyn Ground this evening.
Full Time: West Ham United 2-1 Cheltenham Town
West Ham United FC (4-4-2): Adrian (GK); Chambers, Tomkins (c), McCartney, Rat; Diarra (Diame 35), Cole (Downing 46), Collison, Taylor; Morrison, Vaz Te
Subs not used: Henderson, Nolan, Lee, Lletget, Ruddock
Cheltenham Town FC (4-5-1): Brown (GK); Lowe, Inniss, Elliott, Braham-Barrett; McGlashan, Penn (C) (Vincent 83), Taylor, Richards, Deering (Harrison 63); Gornell (Kotwica 76)
Subs not used: Roberts (GK), Jombati, Jones, Gillespie
Referee: Mr. Graham Scott
Attendance: 23,440 (1,508 from Cheltenham)
Star Man: Russ Penn - Leading by example and deserved a goal.