On a night when Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal crashed out and Liverpool squeaked through on penalties, a relentless schedule of European and domestic football appeared to catch up with the Premier League’s leading sides.
Of those active on the continent this season, only Manchester City progressed in any sort of style — and even then at Chelsea’s expense.
Difficult as it is to feign outrage, then, this was still another worrying night for West Ham, following Sunday’s late loss against Crystal Palace, a 10-9 penalty shootout defeat to what was effectively Blackburn’s second string letting more air out of a balloon that was not especially well inflated in the first place.
The Hammers had led 2-1 after goals from Pablo Fornals and Michail Antonio cancelled out Jack Vale’s opener, but substitute Ben Brereton Diaz curled a fine leveller for Rovers to force spot-kicks, where Angelo Ogbonna was the villain, firing his decisive penalty against the bar after 19 blemish-free efforts.
In the long run, an exit at this stage may prove a blessing, if not in delaying the Hammers’ return to action after the World Cup until the other side of Christmas, then certainly once the fixture list is back in full swing in the new year. There are those starting to question, however, whether David Moyes will still be around to be the beneficiary.
There is now huge pressure on Saturday’s home League meeting with Leicester, the final chance to raise spirits — and League position — ahead of Qatar.
As mutinous as the atmosphere could turn should his side lose, Moyes deserves the World Cup break to reset, having gone into the season with a squad incomplete and undercooked, and since struggled for consistency amid a manic schedule.
Arsenal away on Boxing Day should offer something of a free hit, before a run of games against Brentford, Leeds, Wolves and Everton that will be the acid test for any hope of an upturn.