Kidderminster Harriers players were left devastated after being denied perhaps the greatest FA Cup shock ever by a late West Ham goal – twice.
The 151-year history of the FA Cup is filled with stories of famous giant-killings – Ronnie Radford’s goal for Hereford against Newcastle, Wrexham beating Arsenal, Lincoln beating Burnley and so on.
But never, never, never have a team from the sixth tier beat a team from the top flight. That was what was on the line as West Ham broke Kidderminster hearts.
Chelsea’s comeback to beat Plymouth in extra time seemed tame in comparison.
Kidderminster v West Ham had all the elements.
Alex Penny scored the opening goal after West Ham’s keeper flapped at a cross. Four years ago, Penny was at Jamie Vardy’s academy for non-league players looking to make it professional.
Aggborough Stadium erupted.
At half-time, former England captain Alan Shearer said: “They have been brilliant from the start, they went after West Ham from the start.
“They closed them down, they pressed – if you had never watched a football match before, you’d never know the difference between these teams in terms of leagues and where they are.”
There were saves and last-ditch tackles as Kidderminster hung on – creating chances of their own too. There was even an embarrassing dive from Andriy Yarmolenko late on as West Ham desperately tried to save themselves from the greatest giant-killing ever against a team 112 places below them.
“With two minutes to go, I was believing it and then a minute later…” said Harriers boss Russell Penn, who had been writing a pre-game diary for the BBC.
In the first minute of stoppage time, England international Declan Rice, a man who could potentially cost £100m one day, cut inside and hammered into the roof of the net.
It saved them from being the third Premier League team to lose to a non-league side.
“You couldn’t boil an egg in the time that was left,” said BBC Match of the Day commentator Steve Wilson. “That is how close West Ham were to defeat and Kidderminster were to victory.”
Even West Ham boss David Moyes admitted he thought they “weren’t going to get through” late on.
Former West Ham keeper Rob Green said on BBC Radio 5 Live: “That is a moment of individual brilliance. They needed it. Kidderminster are floored.”
But they were not floored – and the team third in the National League North acquitted themselves wonderfully again in extra time. And then, seconds away from a penalty shootout – football’s great equaliser – £18m Jarrod Bowen tapped in.
Maybe the second cruellest blow in FA Cup history. The first had been just over 30 minutes earlier.
Shearer said: “That is agony for Kidderminster. They should be immensely proud. How the fans turned up and gave them hope too…
“Such a great day in some ways but also devastating to go out the way they have done.
“Kidderminster were seconds away from getting the biggest shock in FA Cup history.”
Even West Ham could not pretend otherwise. Rice told BBC One: “Massive, massive respect to Kidderminster.
“We watched some videos of them this week and they’ve been flying. They probably deserved it if I’m being honest.”
Penn said: “It is a huge honour for me to be managing across from David Moyes. He said some lovely words. He said: ‘Well done, we didn’t deserve it.’
“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… “
Moyes said: “We were fortunate to get through and they were really unfortunate not to take it to penalties at least.”
On a normal day, all the talk would have been of League One Plymouth pushing Chelsea so close.
About 6,000 fans made the trip up from Devon to London and were there to celebrate Macaulay Gillesphey’s early header.
Chelsea had more clear-cut chances than West Ham did in their game, with Mateo Kovacic and Callum Hudson-Odoi hitting the bar and Kovacic striking the post.
Cesar Azpilicueta flicked in the equaliser late in the first half – and then in extra time fellow Spanish defender Marcos Alonso netted the winner.
But there was time for one late twist as Plymouth won a penalty with two minutes to go. A penalty to force penalties.
“Ryan Hardie to step into Plymouth Argyle immortality,” said BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce. “Saved.”
Argyle boss Steven Schumacher stood by the 24-year-old Scot, whose spot-kick was saved by Kepa.
“Ryan Hardie will feel that he’s let everybody down today for missing the penalty, but I can honestly say he hasn’t,” said his manager.
“Ryan normally hits them well, I had confidence in him but by his own admission it wasn’t a great strike and it was easy for the keeper in the end.
“We asked the players to give us everything out there and not leave anything in the tank. They should be really proud of themselves.
“We’re obviously disappointed that we didn’t get through… but all in all, it was a good day.”