BARNSLEY boss Mark Robins was left frustrated as his side failed to fire on their big FA Cup day out in East London.
The Reds had nothing to lose against the Hammers at Upton Park, but instead of going for the jugular from the start, they surprisingly invited pressure on themselves as the hosts took advantage and showed their Premier League class by running riot in the first half.
And despite a spirited second-half display, which saw Adam Hammill's deflected shot hit the crossbar in the final minute, Robins was honest enough to admit his team had been second best.
Jonathan Spector fired the hosts into the lead with a sweet 29th-minute strike after Reds keeper Luke Steele had thwarted the Hammers with a string of smart saves.
Substitute Jacob Butterfield looked to have earned the visitors a penalty close to the hour mark after he was sent tumbling to earth after a strong challenge by centre-back James Tomkins, but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the Reds' protests for a spot-kick.
With chances having been few and far between for Robins' men, Hammill's left-foot shot nearly looped over Hammers keeper Robert Green in injury time.
But a draw would have been kind and substitute Frederic Piquionne made sure the Hammers booked their place in the fourth round with a clinical strike with virtually the last kick of the game.
In truth, had it not been for an inspired match between the posts from Steele, the Reds could have been buried before the break.
"We were within six saves of being 7-0 down. Make no mistake, we were second best in the first half," admitted Robins.
"It was a competition we wanted to do well in. We knew it was going to be a tough place to come despite them losing heavily to Newcastle in their last match.
"But they are a division higher than us and they have a big squad of capable players. We knew we had to be on our game.
"However, there were too many of our players off their game and too many who didn't get close to West Ham players to put them under any pressure.
"When we did get the ball in the first half we were a little bit sluggish, but in the second half we were a little bit better.
"But we still need a bit of pace in the side to stretch teams that little bit more. Apart from that I was reasonably pleased with the second half.
"The players were a little bit better and at the end we could have sneaked a draw."
The warning signs were there to see as early as the seventh minute when winger Zavon Hines danced into the Reds' box, only to be denied by a wonderful save from Steele with his legs.
A minute later Steele denied striker Frank Nouble from close range, before producing an even better block in the 17th minute to thwart him again.
Garry O'Connor curled a right-footer narrowly wide at the other end with Green flat-footed, before Hammers left-back Luis Boa Morte whipped in a lovely cross from the left and Mexican midfielder Pablo Barrera somehow headed wide unmarked at the back post. It should have been the opening goal.
But the Hammers didn't have long to wait and under-fire boss Avram Grant had something to smile about as a wicked deflection of Stephen Foster's ankle saw the ball land invitingly at Spector's feet and the midfielder rifled into the bottom left-hand corner.
Goran Lovre wasted a glorious chance to level matters as the Reds countered, but with only Green to beat the Serbian midfielder toe-poked a tame effort straight at the keeper ten minutes before the break.
Hammill fired well wide as the Reds started to show signs of what they are capable of, but within a minute Victor Obinna was calling for a penalty at the other end after he went down after a strong 50-50 challenge with Steele.
Steele then produced an unbelievable block, denying Hines from point-blank range at his back post, and then skipper Jason Shackell threw his body on the line to clear Barrera's shot off his own goalline. It was frantic stuff, but the Reds still had fight in their bellies, only trailing by a single goal.
However, chances were few and far between following the resumption despite the Reds finally getting a foothold in the fixture.
Butterfield looked lively having come off the bench and was unlucky not to win his penalty, but Hammill's deflected shot might have earned Robins' men an Oakwell replay.
But, throwing bodies forward to get the equaliser, the Reds were stretched and Piquionne pounced to fire past the helpless Steele at the death. It was no more than the Hammers deserved as the Reds now return to domestic duty.
"I think we're capable, but we've got to sustain our form and do it or 90 minutes," added Robins.
"We can take the positives, but there aren't that many to take in all honesty."
Make no mistake, we were second best in the first half, but in the second half was slightly different.
I don't why, but that's symptomatic of our season. We do okay and play for 45 minutes, but unfortunately the belief was sadly lacking in the first half and we gave them far too much respect.
But in fairness to West Ham they made a lot of changes and those changes paid off. They worked their socks off to close us down and get in behind.
You'd probably expect that from West Ham, but from my team that's a shadow of what we're capable of, which is a real shame.
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