• Adam Stubbings

What We Learned: West Ham 4-0 Rovers

Saturday’s FA Cup 4th Round tie at West Ham proved a humbling experience for Darren Moore’s high-flying Reds as they fell to a heavy defeat at the London Stadium. Whilst the manner of the performance has disappointed some Rovers fans, noises out of the club suggest the squad will take it as a key learning experience and hope to put it behind them quickly.

Here’s what we learned from the 4-0 loss to the Hammers.

Chasm in Quality

The gulf in quality between Premier League sides and the lower leagues has never been greater, thanks in large part to the ever-increasing amounts of money involved at that level. It means a scenario where nine top flight sides can win all nine of their cup ties against lower league sides, as has happened this weekend, and the Hammers made lighter work than most others in seeing off Rovers handily.

Despite resting several key first team players, such as Michail Antonio and Declan Rice, David Moyes still called upon a slew of international calibre players, including four players signed for over £20 million. One of those, Spanish attacking midfielder Pablo Fornals, hit the opener inside 90 seconds to give the underdogs a massive hill to climb right from the off, whilst another, Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko struck a quality second over Ellery Balcombe just past the half hour mark to all-but end the tie as a contest.

Levels Below Aspiration

Those riches should not form an excuse for the League One side, however. Rovers despatched higher opposition in Blackburn in the previous round, doing so by sticking to the defensive game plan and not showing any fear when they were able to get forward. The lack of spark was evident in the side regardless of conceding the early opener against West Ham, but Moore may have had good reasons to rest Taylor Richards and Elliot Simoes, especially with plenty of important league games around the corner.

Richards was certainly what the side were missing though, as proven by his positive display off the bench in the second half, but as well as his absence Rovers suffered from a simple inability to meet their usual standard of quality on and off the ball. Andy Butler and Tom Anderson were made to look very ordinary by their illustrious opponents which is no shame, but both will be disappointed in the manner of the goals conceded, particularly Butler’s shanked own goal after half time which made it 3-0 and killed the tie stone dead.

Balcombe Leads Positives

It was not a complete waste of an afternoon for Rovers though, not by any means. Goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe made a string of strong saves after the break and came away with great credit – he is already looking like a worthy replacement for both Josef Bursik and Joe Lumley, and should be an asset to the squad for the rest of the season. Rovers did also find some attacking intent after going three behind, with Richards playing some lovely passes into the channels and Matt Smith striking the crossbar with a decent effort.

Although they were unable to give themselves more chance of an upset – as former Rovers striker Alfie May did when putting Cheltenham in front against Manchester City – the team did stick to their philosophy of playing the ball out from the back and looking to work the flanks, but simply were not afforded the time or space required to get ticking by a West Ham side that were well drilled and clearly motivated to book a place in the next round of a competition they feel they can win.

Taking It Forward

A tough experience then overall for the players but one in which they can learn lessons from, as Darren Moore stated after the game. After a brilliant run of seven wins in eight games, it would be easy for any squad to get a little complacent about their standing and chances at promotion. This loss will serve as a bit of a wake-up call and a reminder that there is so much room to improve across the team, despite the great strides made in the first half of this season.

The Monday evening announcement that John Bostock had signed on an 18-month deal is a great step towards addressing the loss of Ben Whiteman in midfield, and more additions over the coming days should firm up Rovers’ promotion push further with a striker and a winger top of the priority list. League One is the bread and butter and now that the players have had their big day out at one of the finest stadiums in Britain, they can redouble their focus on a promising league campaign.