West Ham United’s two representatives both suffered early exits from this season’s ePremier League Finals as a series of narrow margins went against them in the group stages.
Last month, both Alfie ‘AC RedLac’ Calder (on Xbox One) and Curtis ‘Papsity’ Poole (PS4) – who have represented the Club’s Esports side since last summer – won the right to wear Claret and Blue at the Premier League’s biggest domestic football gaming tournament finals.
Yet by a quirk of the competition’s seeded draw, both players went into Group A of their respective consoles, coming up against some world-class opposition in the early games.
Despite running their opponents close on numerous occasions, the narrow margins which can so often decide top-level matches of such magnitude – irrespective of whether on the physical or virtual pitch – did not fall in the Hammers’ favour.
For RedLac, a first-ever major FIFA tournament finals kicked off on Tuesday afternoon with a penalty shoot-out defeat to former West Ham Esports player, ‘Jas’ Singh, of West Bromwich Albion.
The 18-year-old Hammer started the two-legged tie nervously, but managed to keep himself within touching distance of Jas as he headed into the second leg at a 2-1 deficit.
Jas began to pull away in that game, leading 5-2 on aggregate at one stage, but RedLac showed his mettle to plunder a series of late goals and pull it back to 5-5 – only to then suffer an agonising 4-3 loss on spot-kicks.
With the group stages taking on a ‘double eliminator’ format, the result meant RedLac needed three wins to qualify from the group stages – with no room for further defeat.
Paired against PlanetToast of Newcastle United, RedLac played some fantastic attacking FIFA, racing into a 3-1 lead – only to be pegged back himself to 3-3 at the start of the second leg.
The West Ham man carried on playing his natural game, though, and – following another quickfire exchange of goals – emerged a 6-4 winner over the two legs.
In a talent-packed group, that win paired him in the lucky loser’s bracket with Manchester City’s Ryan Pessoa, a former Xbox World No1 who had just been defeated by this season’s current world No1, Leeds United’s ‘OllieLito’.
RedLac continued to serve up the entertainment with a 3-2 win in the first leg, and was leading 5-4 on aggregate as late as the 87th virtual minute in the second – but conceded late on to a wonder-strike, before RyanPessoa snatched another in extra-time.
With both a penalty shoot-out and extra-time loss in his first three games, RedLac could consider himself highly unfortunate to have been eliminated as early as he ultimately was.
Sadly, this was a theme which also pertained to West Ham during Papsity’s PS4 group stage efforts on Wednesday afternoon.
Drawn against Leeds’ Michael Fisher, a former ePremier League finalist with Norwich City, a more tight and tense tie ensued, with Papsity falling behind early on, only to equalise and then score a Panenka penalty to go 2-1 up in the first leg.
It was not a lead the 25-year-old could hold, however, as Fisher equalised in the 86th minute of the first leg – the last goal seen in normal time, with leg two finishing 0-0.
At 2-2 heading into extra-time, both players knew that one goal was likely to settle the score, and in the 112th minute, it went to Fisher, sending Papsity into the lucky loser’s bracket early on.
The Hammer faced another former Hammer, Danny Taylor of Newcastle United, for the right to stay in the Finals.
Yet another see-saw game ensued and Papsity, despite twice taking the lead, went into the second leg with a 3-2 deficit to overturn.
The second game fell into the same pattern, however, with the Hammer leading 4-3 on aggregate at one stage, only to concede twice late on – the 5-4 loss eliminating him from the competition.
Both Hammers will now look forward to the final European Global Series Qualifier event, which kicks off in two-and-a-half-weeks, as their last chance to gain the ranking points required to push themselves into contention for a spot at the 2021 FIFA eWorld Cup.