West Ham United have guaranteed European football in Stratford after December for the first time in forty years but they couldn’t quite give manager David Moyes victory in his 1000th game of his managerial career, as they could only bring back a point from Belgium after a 2-2 draw with KRC Genk on Thursday night.
Vladimír Coufal, Declan Rice and Mark Noble were all named in the starting line-up, while both Andriy Yarmolenko and Nikola Vlašić had picked up minor injuries so Michail Antonio retained his place from the weekend’s victory at Aston Villa.
The Hammers haven’t conceded a goal so far in their European campaign but that all changed as early as the fourth minute when Joseph Paintsil picked up the ball and evaded the attentions of Issa Diop and the winger’s shot beat Irons’ goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to shock the loyal fans who had made the trip from East London. The Frenchman did get a touch but couldn’t prevent the ball from crossing the line.
KRC Genk looked tricky opponents when they arrived in Stratford a fortnight earlier and they also posed a threat here as they almost went further ahead. Paul Onuachu went close on two occasions but Areola was in no mood to be beaten for a second time.
In fact, Onuachu, along with Junya Ito were back to cause the Hammers problems and the striker had a golden chance to double the home side’s advantage after Paintsil had set the Japanese international up. Fortunately for the visitors, he made a hash of his effort and the East Londoners were given a huge let off.
As the first-half drew to a close, the Hammers had a real chance to go into the break on level terms when Saïd Benrahma met a cross from Arthur Masuaku but the Algerian was only kept out by great work from goalkeeper Maarten Vandevoordt.
Then, the home stopper got a vital touch to Antonio’s effort and when Rice was quickly on the scene to pick up the pieces, Bryan Heynen thwarted the midfielder.
When referee Alexander Standev blew the whistle for half-time, the East Londoners were in danger of losing their unbeaten record in Europe.
With thirteen minutes of the second-half gone, Moyes made a triple substitution, as Tomáš Souček, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen took the places of Noble, Masuaku and Antonio.
After a disappointing first twenty minutes of the encounter, West Ham had a number of chances to get back into the game but they couldn’t make them count until the fifty ninth minute when Benrahma combined to good effect with Coufal and when the Czech played the ball back to the winger, he had the easiest of finishes to bring loud cheers from those in the away end.
The visitors were really piling on the pressure by this point as they went looking for more goals. Coufal was ever so close to opening his account for the club but after Vandevoordt couldn’t hold Aaron Cresswell’s cross, the defender only succeeded in sending his attempt inches wide.
West Ham went in front with just eight minutes of normal time to play. A magnificent piece of skill from Benrahma ended with the Algerian sending the ball through Vandevoordt’s legs.
The Hammers’ boss made a fourth change on eighty five minutes with Alex Král replacing Manuel Lanzini.
The visitors looked as if they would be heading for another victory and the double over the Belgians, that was until the eighty eighth minute when the Irons suffered the killer blow. Souček headed into his own net, leaving Areola stranded.
It was a disappointing end to the match but Moyes’ men remain unbeaten on the road.
They are back in action on Sunday and they will be looking to end Liverpool’s perfect start to the current campaign when the Reds arrive in Stratford.