West Ham United remain top of Group H after winning the second game of their UEFA Europa League campaign 2-0 against SK Rapid Vienna in Stratford on Thursday night.
Only Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio retained their places from last weekend’s victory over Leeds United at Elland Road.
David Moyes again named two goalkeepers on the bench. Alphonse Areola was preferred to Łukasz Fabiański in goal and given his home debut. The Pole on the other hand took his place on the bench with Darren Randolph also included amongst the substitutes. Youngsters Jamal Baptiste and Ajibola Alese were other names in the matchday squad.
With this being the first European match in East London for four years, there was going to be little doubt that the home support wouldn’t be up for such an occasion but to boost the atmosphere even more, there was a tremendous light show before the players walked out of the tunnel.
When the action got started, the mood didn’t deteriorate. The Hammers made a great start and could have gone in front early on. A free-kick was sent into the box by Cresswell and Rice managed to get his head to the ball but his effort somehow hit the post.
The visitors had lost their opening encounter two weeks earlier but they seemed happy to let the Irons orchestrate matters. The Austrians were lucky not to fall behind, as the hosts were again close to going ahead. It was Craig Dawson who was the unfortunate player this time, as he met another Cresswell free-kick.
On twenty nine minutes, Moyes finally saw his side take the lead. Andriy Yarmolenko found Antonio with a great ball and his cross was perfect for Rice to nudge past visiting goalkeeper Paul Gartler.
West Ham were still in charge for the remainder of the first-half but were unable to find a second goal as referee Tobias Stelier blew his whistle for the break.
The energy that the East Londoners showed throughout the first-half was still with them and they almost doubled their advantage just minutes after the break as Nikola Vlašić went close but in the end, his attempt was comfortably dealt with by Gartler.
On sixty two minutes, both teams made substitutions. SK Rapid Vienna brought on Marco Grüll, Filip Stojković and Koya Kitagawa for Kara Mbodji, Fountas Taxiarchis and Leo Greiml, while the Irons followed suit and replaced Mark Noble, Vlašić and Antonio with Tomáš Souček, Manuel Lanzini and Jarrod Bowen.
Eight minutes later, the away side were handed a chance to get back on level terms when they were awarded a penalty after Grüll ran into the box and took a tumble past Ben Johnson but after a check on the pitchside monitor, the original decision was overturned.
Moyes decided to make another substitution on seventy five minutes, as Pablo Fornals entered the fray for Yarmolenko. The Spaniard was to make an immediate impact, as minutes after he had been introduced, he set Bowen up for a great chance to finish the game off. Despite coming under considerable pressure from Gartler, the former Hull City winger still should have scored but wanted too long on the ball and wasted the opportunity.
Deep into the five minutes added at the end of the ninety, Benrahma spared Bowen’s blushes, as he produced a calm finish to wrap the game up.
The home support certainly enjoyed their night and they are back in Stratford on Sunday for the visit of newly-promoted Brentford in the Premier League.