This was a game that neither side particularly wanted, eleven changes apiece suggesting just as much - but it was certainly one West Ham could’ve done without losing.
Two points above the Premier League relegation zone following Sunday’s late defeat to Crystal Palace, David Moyes’ side are now out of the Carabao Cup as well, beaten on penalties by the ‘B’ team of Championship high-fliers Blackburn after Ben Brereton Diaz’s late strike had forced a shootout at the end of a 2-2 draw.
In the end, it was a relief simply to get out of the ground: with a tube strike looming and the shootout in danger of stretching into the night, Angelo Ogbonna was the unlucky man to halt a run of 19 perfect spot-kicks. Fittingly, after the two goalkeepers had barely threatened a save between them, it was the crossbar that denied the Italian and sent Rovers into the fourth round.
The Palace result had, after a good run in Europe, brought the Irons’ Premier League struggles into sharp focus and Saturday’s game against Leicester was the clear priority for Moyes here. That fixture represents a last chance to pull clear of the drop before six weeks out of League action and the likes of Thilo Kehrer, Declan Rice and Lucas Paqueta were all given the night off in anticipation of their World Cup workload.
Blackburn, too, have eyes on the weekend, with Sunday’s meeting with league leaders Burnley to decide who will go into the season’s pause on top of the division.
Still, Moyes’ second string was littered with internationals (and, tellingly, none of the young prospects blooded in Bucharest last week even made the bench), while his opposite number Jon Dahl Tomasson sent out a side made up entirely of players aged 24 or under, save captain Bradley Dack.
They were ahead on six minutes, Tayo Edun’s superb pass put Jack Vale through to slot his first Rovers goal through the legs of Hammers ‘keeper Alphonse Areola.
By then, Areola - named in France’s squad for Qatar only minutes before kick-off - had already been called into one-on-one action after a dreadful back pass from Nayef Aguerd put former Tottenham youth academy graduate Dilan Markanday through on goal.
Later, Conor Coventry would repeat the trick, but Markanday again faltered, struggling to get the ball out of his feet before half-rounding Areola and then seeing a poor effort blocked on the line by Aguerd.
In between, West Ham had drawn level, Michail Antonio outmuscling Clinton Molan down the right and then seeing his poor cut-back fall perfectly to Pablo Fornals, who lashed home his third goal in as many matches.
After the break, Antonio missed two glorious chances to edge the Hammers in front, poking onto the post from Fornals’ corner and then planting a finish straight at Aynsley Pears from close-range. So, in typical Antonio fashion, he then took a much more difficult opportunity, lashing low into the far corner on the swivel after substitute Jarrod Bowen had challenged for Aguerd’s high switch.
Bowen had moments earlier been sent on in an ambitious double-change that also saw Gianluca Scamacca introduced in place of Vladimir Coufal and Fornals. It signalled Moyes’ desire to get the job done but instead it was a Blackburn substitute in Brerton Diaz, the joint-top-scorer in the Championship this term, who had the biggest impact, curling a wonderful effort past Areola to force spot-kicks.
Rarely can a set of players and coaches have been more thankful for the abolition of extra-time at this stage of competition but with tube strike disruption looming that was not enough to stop hoards of fans streaming for the exits.
Those who stayed were teased with the prospect of the goalkeepers stepping up to the spot, but with Blackburn 10-9 ahead Ogbonna erred and denied them even that.