West Ham United picked up their first win and scored their first goals of the 2022/23 season on Thursday night as they won the first-leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League Play-off against Danish Superliga side Viborg FF 3-1 in Stratford on Thursday night.
Only Vladimír Coufal, Ben Johnson, Jarrod Bowen and Tomáš Souček kept their places in the side from last weekend’s defeat to newly-promoted Nottingham Forest, as Alphonse Areola, Harrison Ashby, Connor Coventry, Maxwel Cornet, Manuel Lanzini and Gianluca Scamacca all came into the starting line-up.
There was a welcome return to action for defender Angelo Ogbonna, who had not featured in a matchday squad since the 3-2 home victory against Liverpool back on November 7, due to a long-standing injury. The Italian defender was named Captain for the evening in the absence of both regular Skipper Declan Rice and Aaron Cresswell, who were both missing through suspension.
Youngsters Nathan Trott, Dan Chesters, Armstrong Oko-Flex, Pierre Ekwah Elimby and Jamal Baptiste were included on the bench, alongside Darren Randolph, Kurt Zouma, new signing Thilo Kehrer, Flynn Downes, Pablo Fornals and Saïd Benrahma.
Kehrer was given a warm welcome by the fans before the game but when the action got underway,
the visitors were definitely on top in the early stages. However, West Ham weren’t without their chances and perhaps should have gone ahead on a number of occasions, including one with just five minutes played. Unfortunately for the majority inside the stadium though, Scamacca’s shot took a deflection off Bowen.
Bowen then tried his luck but the attempt hit both posts. Had the former Hull City winger’s effort gone in however, it wouldn’t have counted as he was ruled offside.
Scamacca did put them in front after twenty three minutes. Cornet’s cross into the box allowed the Italian striker to beat Žan Zaletel to the ball and head past goalkeeper Lucas Lund Pedersen, following great play from Johnson, Coventry and Coufal.
Having scored his first goal for the club, Scamacca was eager for a second and he could have had it before the break but this time, his effort was superbly saved by Lund Pedersen.
Areola was then forced into action but he did well to keep the advantage intact for the Hammers.
When referee Marco Di Bello blew the whistle for the break, the Irons were comfortable but knew they wanted more goals in order to get a foothold in the tie.
West Ham were under the stewardship of Billy McKinlay for the night, as David Moyes was serving a one-match touchline ban. At half-time, the Scotsman decided to make change and introduced Fornals in place of Lanzini.
Into the second-half and the home side went in search of another goal. They almost got it too. Ashby unleashed a bullet of a shot but Lund Pedersen somehow managed to keep it out and tip over the bar.
Bowen scored a number of important goals in last season’s run to the UEFA Europa League semi-final and he put them within reach of the UEFA Europa Conference League group stage here when he added another European goal to his tally, as his 25-yard strike gave Lund Pedersen no chance.
On sixty six minutes, the Irons made a triple change, as Kehrer, Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio entered the fray for Ogbonna, Bowen and Scamacca.
Just as the home team were beginning to think that they would finally get their first win in any competition since May, the Danes found a way back into the contest when Jakob Bonde scored after he had found himself in space and headed beyond Areola.
The East Londoners were extremely for not to give away an equaliser when Nils Mortimer tried to get the better of Areola but the Frenchman seemed to have it covered and helped his shot over the top.
McKinlay’s latest changes seemed to have the desired impact as just twelve minutes later, as the home crowd were once again cheering. Benrahma did all the hard work and then presented Antonio with a chance that he really couldn’t miss. Thankfully for the hosts, he didn’t, which now gives the Danes plenty of work to do, if they are going to turn this tie around.
A final substitution was made by the hosts on eighty four minutes, as Downes replaced Coventry.
After a spell of pressure from the visitors late on, Cornet almost made it an even better night for his team but he wasn’t able to make his spectacular volley count.
The Hammers are back in Stratford on Sunday afternoon when they will have another crack at trying to beat Brighton and Hove Albion.