Hammers Suffer Early Cup Exit
West Ham United knocked out fellow Premier League side and then holders Manchester City on penalties last season but this time around, they were beaten on spot-kicks themselves, thanks to a 9-10 defeat by Sky Bet Championship side Blackburn Rovers in Stratford on Wednesday night.
David Moyes once again changed his whole starting line-up from the team that lost against Crystal Palace just three days earlier, as Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Vladimír Coufal, Angelo Ogbonna, Emmerson Palmieri, Flynn Downes, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Nayef Aguerd, Michail Antonio and youngster Connor Coventry all came in.
Aaron Cresswell, Tomáš Souček, Saïd Benrahma, Jarrod Bowen and Gianluca Scamacca dropped to the bench, along with Darren Randolph, Krisztián Hegyi, Kurt Zouma and Craig Dawson.
As he often is in games such as these, Italian defender Ogbonna was given the Captain’s armband for the evening.
It would be fair to say that it wasn’t a great performance from the Hammers on Sunday and it didn’t start well here either. Before youngster Jack Vale gave Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men an early advantage, they went close on other occasions. Dilan Markanday wasted a great opportunity as he only had Areola to beat but the Frenchman saved his team and somehow helped the 21-year-old’s attempt wide.
Rovers piled on the pressure by earning a succession of corners. The second of which saw them go close again but fortunately for the home faithful, John Buckley’s effort was deflected wide. The persistence of the visitors finally paid off, as they were on the scoresheet soon after. Tayo Edun’s pass sent Vale away and, unlike his team just minutes earlier, he beat Areola to put the side, who currently occupy second place in the Championship table ahead.
Once West Ham found their rhythm, their superiority was proving a real threat to the team from Lancashire. Moyes had decided to pick Antonio ahead of Scamacca for this game and it seemed the right call, as he was causing the visitors’ defence problems. The frontman was creating some clever moves and he then played in Fornals. The Spaniard tried his luck but his effort was well dealt with by visiting goalkeeper Aynsley Pears.
Fornals and Antonio linked up again soon after and the midfielder had turned provider on this occasion but the former Nottingham Forest man failed to make the most of his opportunity and instead fired over.
The Irons went on the attack again but luck didn’t seem to be with them, as that particular move broke down before Downes picked up possession but he was unfortunate to have his shot blocked.
Chances were still coming for the hosts but they weren’t able to make the most of them, particularly when both Coufal and Palmieri sent corner kicks into the area however, neither opportunity was on target.
It’s okay putting pressure on but you have to make it count and on thirty eight minutes, the majority inside the stadium had finally been given something to cheer about when Antonio got the better of Clinton Mola and benefited when his cross was as poor as the subsequent clearance from Joe Rankin-Costello. Nevertheless, the ball fell to Fornals, who was then able to rifle it into the net on the turn, giving Pears no chance.
The home side were now looking to take the lead into the break but unfortunately, Lanzini was a bit too eager and blazed over before Tomasson’s side had a great opportunity to regain the advantage themselves but after pouncing on a mistake from Coventry, together with rounding Areola, thankfully, Aguerd saw the danger in time and managed to prevent Markanday’s effort from crossing the line.
Referee Thomas Bramall blew the whistle for the break and now that the East Londoners were back level, their fans were just hoping that they could go on and win the tie.
Moyes’ men had a good chance after the break when Lanzini went close but his shot was helped over the bar by Hayden Carter, Mola then got a vital block onto a cross from Downes as West Ham’s pressure was relentless.
Antonio then went ever so close to scoring a second goal for his side but the effort came off the post from close-range, before the visitors could finally breathe a sigh of relief when Lanzini’s free-kick couldn’t get past the defensive wall.
Blackburn survived that particular onslaught and Tomasson then made a double change on fifty nine minutes, replacing Captain Bradley Dack and Markanday with Ben Brereton Díaz and Sammie Szmodics.
The Chile international almost made the desired impact but fortunately the chance went narrowly wide of the post.
The change that Moyes brought on seemed to make a difference too, as Benrahma took the place of Coventry on sixty five minutes, the Algerian winger who was perhaps unlucky to be taken off against the Eagles at the weekend, but he was certainly proving his worth here. He combined well with Coufal and the Czech then sent in a cross which was well tipped over by Pears.
The pressure wasn’t over yet however, as he then showed quick reactions to stop a effort by Fornals from beating him.
Pears was the busier stopper by this point and he also had to deny Antonio before Carter even got in on the act when he produced a vital interception, as the frontman was desperate for a goal.
Benrahma then tried his luck but he only succeeded in firing over the top with the goal at his mercy.
Moyes thought it was then time for him to add more attacking prowess to his side. With seventy seven minutes he made a double change, introducing both Bowen and Scamacca into the action for Coufal and Fornals.
The Scotsman’s last substitution nearly paid off but with Bowen and Scamacca having just entered the fray, West Ham were finally in front and Antonio had at last scored his 100th career goal. Great play from Lanzini almost found Bowen in space but a deflection off the head of a helpless Blackburn player meant Antonio could turn and beat Pears to bring loud cheers from the home fans.
However, there was one final twist before the game was up. The visitors equalised with two minutes of normal time to play, as Szmodics set up Brereton Diaz to beat Areola and send a shot into the top corner of the net.
Deep into the three minutes of stoppage time that were added at the end of the ninety, Moyes made a fourth and final change, replacing Palmieri with Cresswell.
Bramall brought proceedings to a close and the tie would have to be settled by a penalty shootout.
The first five were all converted, meaning it was time for sudden death and with the visitors winning 9-10, it was left to Ogbonna to level matters once again but his attempt agonisingly came back off the crossbar, meaning that West Ham are out of the competition at the first time of asking.
They will want to bounce back from two recent defeats and pick up three points when they are back here on Saturday afternoon to face Leicester City before the season pauses for the Qatar World Cup.