MATCH REPORT 2022/23: West Ham United 2 – 2 (9-10p) Blackburn Rovers

MATCH REPORT 2022/23: West Ham United 2 – 2 (9-10p) Blackburn Rovers

Rovers overcame the odds in the most dramatic of fashions as they managed to carve themselves a route into the Carabao Cup Fourth Round for the first-time since 2011-12, following a pulsating Third Round tie at the London Olympic Stadium, as penalties proved to be the difference between Jon Dahl Tomasson’s young side, and David Moyes’ European-standard West Ham United.

With the Blues’ next Championship fixture on Sunday firmly at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Head Coach, Jon Dahl Tomasson opted for wholesale changes, making 11 of them from the side that beat Huddersfield Town 1-0, on Saturday. Aynsley Pears donned the globes for Rovers, behind a young back-four of Joe Rankin-Costello, Hayden Carter, Clinton Mola who was making his first start and Tayo Edun. Local lads, Adam Wharton and John Buckley sat deep in midfield behind captain, Bradley Dack, who was flanked by Dilan Markanday and Tyrhys Dolan, the latter of whom was racking up a century in the Blue and White halves. Jack Vale led the line in his fifth start of the season.

As around 2,000 Rovers fans settled into the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, a rather fabulous light show kicked off the evening before thousands of bubbles emerged as the players walked out onto the pitch whilst being serenaded by the home side’s ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ anthem. 7:45pm saw Bradley Dack kick the game off as Rovers’ young side looked to try and cause a ‘cupset’.

After three minutes, Rovers flew out the traps as Dilan Markanday latched onto a loose pass by the home defence, but Alphonse Areola flew off his line to clear the danger behind for a corner.

Rovers’ early pressure continued after the corner as the ball continued to be recycled, before the visitors crafted the golden chance in the sixth minute. Tayo Edun picked out a defence-splitting ball through the heart of the Hammers defence as a suspiciously offside-looking Jack Vale latched onto the pass with a solid first-touch before he opened up his body and slid the ball past Areola, via a nutmeg, as the visiting fans down the other end of the Olympic Stadium erupted into delight their side leading 1-0.

Hayden Carter was booked in the ninth minute after fouling Michail Antonio.

The Jamaican international was causing issues for Rovers’ young backline, as he sped past Tayo Edun before cutting the ball back to Pablo Fornals who had his effort saved by Aynsley Pears, in the 13th minute.

The Hammers pair combined again, but the Spaniard became provider, as he fed the former Nottingham Forest utility-man but Antonio saw his left-footed every in the 18th minute clear the crossbar and end up with the Rovers fans behind Pears.

Following a twenty-minute period of Rovers defending resiliently as West Ham continued to pile pressure, mostly via corners, their quality shone as they managed to peg Rovers back, seven minutes before half-time in the 38th minute. After Vladimír Coufal hooked a ball down the right-wing, Clinton Mola latched onto the ball, but looked to be shoved by Antonio, as the linesman waved play on, much to the discontent of the Rovers fans. The attacker got to the byline, before chopping back against Mola, who had recovered from his fall, but Antonio proved to be half a second ahead of the defender, as he pulled the ball back towards the penalty area. John Buckley’s poor first touch fell invitingly for Pablo Fornals to turn and shoot first-time, as he beat Pears to level proceedings at 1-1.

Manuel Lanzini tried a 42nd minute long-range effort, but his shot failed to faze Pears, as the ball flew over the bar.

Just before three minutes of added time was called for by referee Thomas Bramall, Dilan Markanday was again offered a chance to score for the third round running, after he capitalised on another loose pass from the home side, but the former Tottenham Hotspur youth forward managed to take the ball past Areola but took too many touches before Conor Coventry blocked the ball off the line.

After the three minutes were played, Thomas Bramall brought an exciting first-half to a close as Rovers ended the first period on a high after starting well.

David Moyes would have been scratching his head at the break at how his side had failed to net more than one after the plethora of chances they had created and saw either blocked, saved or blazed over. The under-pressure Scot would have been reminding his side of their quality and pedigree at the break.

Jon Dahl Tomasson’s half-time wisdom would have offered the young Rovers side a boost in confidence. He would have encouraged them to continue playing positively and be wary of the hosts on the transition. The Dane would have also been highlighting the fact that Rovers had already ruined the Hammers’ clean-sheet, so why could they not score a second in the remaining 45 minutes?

Moments prior to the second-half beginning, Rovers made their first swap of the game, as Jake Garrett came on to replace Adam Wharton, as Jon Dahl Tomasson rotated his young side slightly, with Sunday in mind.

The hosts started the second-half looking to try and use their quality, provided by their financial muscle, to brush Rovers aside and get to their second successive Carabao Cup Round of 16, after reaching the Quarter Finals last season, before losing to Tottenham Hotspur.

The 52nd minute saw Manuel Lanzini try his luck from range, but Hayden Carter stood strong and denied the Argentine, by deflecting the effort out for a corner via his head.

A West Ham corner in the 55th minute saw the ball drift towards the back-post as Michail Antonio powered in and tried to turn the ball in, but saw his effort crash back off the post.

On the hour mark, Rovers made a double change as Sammie Szmodics and Ben Brereton Díaz were thrown on for Dilan Markanday and Bradley Dack, as the former Peterborough United and West Ham United fan came on to play behind Jack Vale, whilst the Chilean came into sit on the left-hand side.

The Chilean’s impact was soon felt, as in the 65th minute, Jake Garrett found the attacker before he cut inside and tried to find the inside of the far-post with an effort, but his shot whizzed past the upright.

From the break in play, David Moyes made his first change as Saïd Benrahma came on for Conor Coventry.

Coufal tried to deliver a cross into the box, but it took a dangerous deflection towards goal which left Pears scrambling as he tipped the ball over the bar in the 67th minute.

Moments after the corner, Pears was called into action again as he tipped Fornals over the crossbar.

Pears again kept Rovers alive in the game as Antonio saw another shot denied by the stand-in goalkeeper in the 69th minute.

West Ham’s pressure continued into the 75th minute when Antonio was played through on goal before being thwarted by Pears who couldn’t grab the ball after denying Antonio, as the rebound fell to Benrahma who skied the ball over the crossbar, to the delight of the taunting away support.

Sammie Szmodics was booked, on his return to his boyhood club, after bringing down Flynn Downes in the 75th minutes.

David Moyes played his hand again in the 77th minute, as £65m worth of talent entered the fray as Gianluca Scamacca and Jarrod Bowen replaced Pablo Fornals and Vladimír Coufal for the final 13 minutes, plus stoppages.

Those switches revitalised the hosts, as they managed to finally make their chances count, just one minute later, as Michail Antonio, who had threatened all-game, finally found the back of the net to put the Hammers 2-1 ahead. A ball hooked into Bowen’s path was knocked down by Tayo Edun, who inadvertently placed the ball perfectly for Antonio to swing at the ball, which he did with perfect accuracy, as his first-time swivelled effort found the bottom left-hand corner.

Just before the kick-off, Jon Dahl Tomasson made a defensive change as Dominic Hyam replaced Clinton Mola.

As Rovers tried to push forwards, Jon Dahl Tomasson’s final change of the evening came in the 85th minute as George Hirst replaced Jack Vale for the final five minutes.

As the 88th minute arrived, so did pandemonium in the away end, as 2000-odd Rovers fans were sent into madness by Ben Brereton Díaz who produced a moment of quality that would live long in the memory of the travelling fans behind the goal who saw the ball arrow into the top corner. John Buckley sent the ball forward as George Hirst knocked the ball down into his own path, before tapping it towards Sam Szmodics, who found Brereton Díaz with a first-time volley pass. The Chilean picked up the ball inside the left-hand channel and tiptoed his way inside, turning Ben Johnson and Nayef Aguerd inside out before lasering the ball into the top right-hand corner, leaving Areola diving in despair, before celebrating his 2-2 equaliser and his 50th career goal, with the Rovers fans.

After a couple minutes out of three minutes of added time were played, David Moyer introduced Aaron Cresswell for Emerson Palmieri, with spot-kicks in mind, after the sides had drawn level, after extra-time was removed from the competition, with draws going straight to penalties.

With time running out, Thomas Bramall brought the pulsating 90 minutes to an end as both managers began planning for penalties, as both sets of fans began to decide which nails they wanted to chew for the spot-kicks.

Following the coin toss, it was decided that Rovers would go first, but the penalties would be taken in-front of the Bobby Moore Stand.

The first spot-kick was taken by Ben Brereton Díaz, who brilliantly found the top right-hand corner of the net, sending Alphonse Areola the wrong way.

Saïd Benrahma came in to be the Hammers’ first taker of the night and he duly obliged by slotting his penalty into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

Dominic Hyam was the surprise choice from Rovers to go second, but the towering defender made no mistake, by replicating Benrahma’s finish, with a coolly slotted effort into the bottom left corner.

Jarrod Bowen was number four on the list of takers, and after showing his impact by forcing the error for the goal, he once again showed his class by finding the right-hand side-netting to level the scores at 2-2.

Tyrhys Dolan was Rovers’ third taker and he also made no mistake on his 100th appearance for the club, as he picked out the bottom right-hand corner with ease.

Gianluca Scamacca prolonged the evening by powering a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner, for 3-3.

John Buckley’s cool, calm and collected demeanour showed in his spot-kick, as he completely sent Areola the wrong way and found the top left-hand corner.

Michail Antonio’s short run-up was so nearly foiled by Pears, who dived the right way – towards the bottom left – but the Jamaican’s power beat the speed of the goalie’s dive.

Sammie Szmodics was Rovers’ fifth taker and the Londoner held his nerve against his boyhood side to complete every football fan’s dream of netting against the side they supported – unless they played for them(!) – as his stuttering run-up paid dividends as he picked out the bottom left.

Manuel Lanzini was next up for the Hammers’ firing squad and he expertly converted his attempt down the middle for 5-5

Tayo Edun came in for Rovers’ sixth spot-kick, which he brilliantly found the bottom right-hand corner with.

Ben Johnson soon levelled the scoring to 6-6 with a thunderous drive down the centre of the net, as Pears dived to his right.

Joe Rankin-Costello replicated the penalty of his fellow full-back Edun, by slotting the ball into the bottom-right to keep the pressure on West Ham United.

Set-piece expert, Aaron Cresswell was up next and he took his spot-kick as if he was in training, coolly finding the bottom-left.

Hayden Carter was Rovers’ eighth taker of the night and he had clearly been studying Cresswell’s kick carefully, as he replicated it down to a tee.

Flynn Downes kept the proceedings going as he sent Pears the wrong way and found the bottom right-corner, for 8-8.

George Hirst was looking to banish some penalty hoo-doo, after previously missing a potentially equalising penalty away at Cardiff City in the 1-0 defeat, back in October, but he proved that he had got that out of his system as he dispatched a fine kick down the middle.

Nayef Aguerd soon levelled at 9-9, proving to his on-watching national team manager, that he was capable of taking a penalty when called-up to Morocco’s World Cup squad.

Jake Garrett took a pressure penalty, and arguably came the closest to testing Alphonse Areola, but thankfully, the accuracy and power down into the bottom left-hand corner, proved too much for the French World Cup winner, as Garrett netted for 10-9.

Before Angelo Ogbonna stepped up for his penalty, he was slightly nudged by Garrett, who was making his way back to the centre-circle, but the Italian looked unfazed as he put the ball down on the spot and took a five-step run-up which looked incredibly quick before striking the ball against the crossbar and becoming the first player to shoot a blank in the sudden death shootout, as Rovers celebrated euphorically, before offering their commiserations to their counter-parts, prior to celebrating with the travelling support.

With Rovers winning their first penalty shootout since a 4-3 penalty win over Chelsea in the 2009-10 League Cup Quarter-Final, following a thrilling 3-3 draw at Ewood Park, they moved into the Fourth Round of the competition for the first time since 2011-12, where they were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by Cardiff City.

Now that we know that Rovers will be facing off against Premier League side and last seasons’s Playoff winners, Nottingham Forest in Round Four, a few days after the World Cup final, it leaves Rovers with a great chance to try and make an appearance at the new Wembley for the first-time, despite the former European Cup winners’ good display in the Third Round, where they beat Tottenham Hotspur, 2-0. With the Reds’ league form being a worry, Steve Cooper will no doubt rotate his packed squad to offer fringe players more time on the pitch, with Premier League survival their main priority after a 23-year absence.

There’s no need for one to remind you what Rovers’ next game is, with a trip to Turf Moor pencilled in for 12:30pm on Sunday 13th November – a game viewable on Sky Sports. That leads us nicely into the World Cup break, prior to a return to action on Saturday 10th December where the Lancashire Derbies don’t stop, as Preston North End roll into town for a 3pm kick-off, before a 5:30pm trip to East Anglia to face Norwich City on Saturday 17th December – a game also live on Sky Sports.