Hammers See To Sevilla In Europa League
West Ham United became the first English club ever to beat Sevilla as they overturned a one-goal deficit to win the second-leg 2-0 in Stratford on Thursday night, sending them through to the quarter-final stage of the competition.
As I eluded to in my preview ahead of this game, if they could manage to turn the tie around, then it would be a night for the club’s ever-loyal fan base to remember and indeed it was.
Aaron Cresswell and Michail Antonio passed their late fitness tests and kept their places in the starting line-up that showed just one change to the side which beat Aston Villa here just four days ago, as Alphonse Areola replaced Łukasz Fabiański in goal with the Pole dropping to the bench, where he was also joined by Darren Randolph.
Nikola Vlašić had recovered sufficiently from injury to return to the matchday squad, while youngsters Dan Chesters, Sonny Perkins and Ajibola Alese were also included.
As has become a custom to these European nights, there was the usual light show, plus a live DJ to ramp up the atmosphere and to be fair to the record crowd inside the stadium, when the match started, there was no chance of the noise levels dropping.
The Hammers had a chance to level the aggregate score early on when Cresswell took responsibility for a set-piece but it was cleared.
Both sides were determined to give it their best shot and the visitors were showing signs that they wanted to tighten their grip on the tie and they might have done so when they broke. The ball dropped to Ludwig Augustinsson who then spotted skipper Jesús Navas in a good position but fortunately for the large home crowd, he didn’t even trouble Areola.
It wasn’t just the crowd that were up for the occasion, as the players were giving it all they had too. A great team move involving Antonio, Saïd Benrahma and Pablo Fornals finally resulted in the West Ham midfielder having his effort blocked.
The initial two instigators of the previous move were at it again as Antonio was through on goal, only to have the ball taken away from him at the last moment.
Sevilla had the chance to virtually finish the tie as a contest but fortunately, when Augustinsson set up Youssef En-Nesyri perfectly, Areola made a quite stunning save to keep his team in the tie.
Having survived that, the hosts had a chance to go ahead themselves when Benrahma and Antonio combined again. The frontman was inches away from giving the crowd something to cheer but his effort was, unbelievably, kept out by visiting goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Tomáš Souček then had the chance to turn the ball home on the rebound but unfortunately, the defence stood firm with Nemanja Gudelj getting a block in.
Despite missing the earlier chance, Souček wasn’t going to be denied for a second time when, in a similar position, Antonio played him in by lofting a superb ball right over the visiting’ defence and the Czech met the delivery, heading past Bounou to send the crowd wild.
All that the hosts needed was one more goal to progress through to the next stage and if they got it, one could only imagine the scenes that would ensue.
The East Londoners were keen to keep their momentum going at the start of the second-half and the game had barely restarted when the Czech midfielder, who has helped knock the La Liga side out of European competition before, found some space and unleashed a powerful effort but unfortunately, it was too close to Bounou.
In trying to get the game up and running again, the Spaniard made a hash of his claim and only succeeded in finding Irons’ Captain Declan Rice, who then ended that particular spell of pressure by sending his effort wide of the post.
David Moyes’ men were soon on the front foot again when Antonio saw another opportunity to try his luck but there was no way through. Cresswell then picked up the pieces but was off target with his attempt before the ball fell back to the former Nottingham Forest man and he found Manuel Lanzini who saw his shot beaten away by Bounou.
Three successive corners then were awarded West Ham’s way and Cresswell went close, but his luck was out when he tried to get the better of the visiting stopper.
The home fans saw their side control large parts of the second-half, meaning Sevilla’s first attempt of note arrived on seventy minutes when Jesús Corona sent a shot over the top of Areola’s crossbar, after En-Nesyri had held the ball up.
Having seen their advantage from the first-leg disappear, the visitors pushed forward but the Irons continued to deny them room in order to create anything meaningful.
Benrahma had a great chance to win the tie in normal time with just four minutes of the ninety to play. He missed the target with a curling effort after a superb pass from Cresswell.
Just seconds later, Moyes decided to shake things up by making a first change. He replaced the Algerian with Andriy Yarmolenko.
The goal that would settle the tie was not yet found and with the two minutes of stoppage time having ended, this meant that there was an extra thirty minutes of enthralling action to watch.
West Ham were still looking the more likely of the two teams to find the winner, as referee Clément Turpin restarted the contest. Antonio would have been the closest of anyone to send his side beyond this stage but, despite corner after corner finding their way back to him, he was just unable to release the ball.
Eight minutes into the extra period and Souček should have helped himself to a second of the evening. Another corner delivery was sent over by Fornals into the path of Craig Dawson and the former Watford defender headed the ball into the ground and it fell kindly for the midfielder but unfortunately for the home side, his header went narrowly wide.
Four minutes later, the moment that the home fans had been waiting for finally arrived. Lanzini played the ball over to Fornals who then used the space to race past the visitors’ defence and send a curling effort straight at Bounou. However, the goalkeeper failed to hold on and Yarmolenko had the easiest of finishes from no more than five-yards out.
Believe me, you have never heard anything like the roar that came from the crowd and you probably never will again. They went ballistic as the hosts were just minutes away from knocking out the competition’s most successful side.
With five minutes still to play, Moyes introduced Mark Noble for Lanzini, before making a final double change just four minutes later, as Issa Diop and Ryan Fredericks replaced both Fornals and Antonio.
More celebrations could be seen when the final whistle blew to end one of the most incredible nights in the club’s illustrious history.
Moyes learnt earlier today that his side will now face French outfit Olympique Lyonnais in a two-legged quarter-final which will begin on April 7. Before then though, the Hammers attempt to follow up their success against Aston Villa last weekend by doing the league double over fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur in a London derby on Sunday afternoon.