West Ham United will have to produce another second-leg win in order to progress to the semi-final stage of the UEFA Europa League after a 1-1 draw at home to French Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyonnais on Thursday night, meaning that the visitors extended their unbeaten run against English opposition.
The inclusion of Alphonse Areola in goal was the only change that David Moyes made to the team that beat Everton in the Premier League just five days earlier. Ben Johnson had recovered from injury to take his place amongst the nine substitutes in the matchday squad, while youngsters Ajibola Alese and Sonny Perkins were also included.
As it was against Sevilla three weeks previous, the atmosphere was ramped up again ahead of another “big” European night as the home side went looking for another notable scalp.
The visitors were unbeaten on their way to this stage and the Hammers wanted to make sure that there was no way of them getting an early breakthrough. Even though the away fans were seeing their team get into promising positions, nothing they were attempting was in any way going to trouble Areola.
Former Fulham and Celtic player Mousa Dembélé met Lucas Paquetá’s cross with a header but thankfully from the point of view of the hosts, the effort went just wide. Had it gone in however, it wouldn’t have mattered, as the linesman’s flag was raised.
The Hammers started the game slowly but did brighten up after that missed opportunity. A superb long ball was controlled by Saïd Benrahma. The Algerian evaded the attentions of Castello Lukeba but unfortunately, visiting goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was on hand to claim the ball.
There was once again a capacity crowd inside the stadium and the majority thought that the hosts should have been awarded a penalty for handball against Jérôme Boateng after Benrahma sent a shot towards goal but despite loud appeals, referee Felix Zwayer gave nothing.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Tanguy Ndombelle then tried his luck with a long-range effort but thankfully for the Irons’ supporters, he failed to even test Areola.
The East Londoners were then awarded a corner. Bowen sent it over and found Captain Declan Rice who wanted to add another goal to his tally in the competition after scoring against both GNK Dinamo Zagreb and SK Rapid Vienna in the first two games of the competition. However, he was unable to get enough power on his effort, making it an easy save for Lopes.
A massive talking point occurred just before half-time when Aaron Cresswell was given a straight red card for an apparent foul on Dembélé. The opinion of three sides of the stadium was backed up by the television replays and boy, it looked harsh!!! Jarrod Bowen was fouled moments earlier but Zwayer saw nothing wrong with the offence.
Understandably, Zwayer was booed off when he blew his whistle as the fans were baffled by his decision. Nevertheless, the game remained goalless.
Being down to ten men, Moyes changed shape and made a substitution during the break with Johnson replacing Benrahma.
The East Londoners made a great start to the second-half as Michail Antonio tried his luck but his attempt was blocked. However the danger had not been cleared and Pablo Fornals attempted to set up Bowen. Although Boateng made a tackle, the ball fortuitously fell back into Bowen’s path and the shot took a deflection and went into the net, leaving Lopes helpless. As there had been against Sevilla, there was another almighty cheer from the home faithful.
The visitors continued to have chances but they weren’t able to find the net, as Paquetá couldn’t hit the target with a volley and it was the same result for Ndombelle when he did likewise.
He did however do better on sixty six minutes when he connected with a cross from Tetê, who had entered the fray two minutes earlier, and he had the easiest of finishes past the Frenchman despite the best efforts of defender Ryan Fredericks.
Although the Irons were now desperate to hold on to what they had, to be fair to them, they were still looking for to take the lead back to France with them. Kurt Zouma might have grabbed it with a header from a corner but Lopes was there when his team needed him.
Areola was in trouble when he failed to hold onto Paquetá’s long-range effort. However, a combination of Johnson and Zouma were on hand to complete the clearance.
Olympique Lyonnais were trying all they could to turn the tie in their favour by this point but Areola did well to deny Emerson Palmieri.
Moyes’ men did go close once more when Bowen combined with Tomáš Souček and sent an inviting ball towards goal but unfortunately Lopes held on.
The optimists amongst West Ham’s ever-loyal fan base were given a further boost when eight minutes of stoppage time were signalled but the French outfit could have given themselves an edge in the tie when Dembélé went close with a header. To the relief of the West Ham players and fans, he missed the target.
The two teams couldn’t be separated when the final whistle blew meaning it is all to play for as we wait to find out whether it will be Eintract Frankfurt or FC Barcelona in the semi-final.
Before then though, the East Londoners will be looking for a first win on the road since New Year’s Day as they head to The Brentford Community Stadium to face the Bees in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.