- U18s were beaten on penalties by Stoke City in FA Youth Cup third round
- Skipper Declan Rice said the belief before the game was that the youngsters could go all the way in the competition
- The Republic of Ireland U21 international said to exit at this stage was “gutting”
Hammers U18 skipper Declan Rice admitted it was gutting to exit the FA Youth Cup on penalties against Stoke City on Tuesday night.
The young Irons took the lead in the first half at the bet365 Stadium through Jahmal Hector-Ingram but were pegged back as their opponents grabbed two goals in quick succession at the start of the second period.
Hector-Ingram, who has been on fire this season, notched his second to equalise but, unable to find a winner in extra-time, penalties decided the tie as the Potters were victorious 4-2 from 12 yards.
Republic of Ireland U21 international Rice, who is also captain of the PL2 side this season, was left heartbroken after the defeat.
He said: “We spoke at half time about having the 1-0 lead and going out in the second half and not messing anything up, but we have given away two cheap goals and it’s not what we’re about.
“It’s gutting. When we got the game back to 2-2, we definitely thought we were going to push on and then get the third.
“They sat back and maybe we forced too many balls, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Steve Potts fielded a strong side in Staffordshire for the third round tie, with Domingos Quina, Vashon Neufville, Nathan Trott and Hector-Ingram – who have all impressed with the U23s this term – starting.
And Rice was adamant his side had the makings to be successful in the competition this year.
“All the boys were buzzing before the game and everyone was very up for it,” he continued. “It’s just a huge shame, because it was my last crack at it this year and I wish I could have won the Youth Cup.
“The team we have, with the second years and Domingos [Quina], Vash [Neufville] – it’s gutting.
“We practised penalties in training yesterday, but they are just luck on the day. I said to the boys before, just pick a spot and bury it.
“Poor Conor [Coventry] and [Dan] Kempy [who missed] – I spoke to them at the end and just said it’s not the end of the world. We’ll learn from it and go again.
“We have just got to look ahead now, keep playing well and raise the bar every time we play and keep learning different things.”