Thursday evening’s match at Lotto Park Stadium was contested between the two unbeaten teams in UEFA Europa Conference Group B and it was West Ham United who ended RSC Anderlecht’s unbeaten record, as they beat them 1-0, which meant the Belgian side also conceded their first goal in European competition this season.
Only Craig Dawson and Jarrod Bowen retained their places from last Saturday’s win over Wolverhampton Wanderers as David Moyes made nine changes with Alphonse Areola, Vladimír Coufal, Ben Johnson, Angelo Ogbonna, Emmerson Palmieri, Flynn Downes, Manuel Lanzini, Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio coming into the starting line-up, while Łukasz Fabiański, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Declan Rice, Tomáš Souček, Pablo Fornals, Lucas Paquetá and Gianluca Scamacca dropped to the bench.
Darren Randolph was on the bench alongside Fabiański, while youngsters Oliver Scarles and Connor Coventry were also included amongst the twelve substitutes.
Although RSC Anderlecht had an unbeaten record going into this encounter, they could only draw their last match against FCSB. The Hammers however, wanted to preserve their 100% start to the group stage. In a tight contest both teams had chances in the early stages but you could argue that West Ham had the better openings. Benrahma was really keen to make an impact and might have opened the scoring on several occasions but try as he might, nothing seemed to be working out for him.
The visitors kept the pressure on and Bowen later tried his luck but sent his effort wide, before that particular move was finally broken down when Benrahma’s attempt to turn Coufal’s cross past home stopper Hendrik van Crombrugge was blocked by the hosts’ resolute defence.
The home fans were cheering when the ball hit the net minutes later but thankfully for the travelling contingent, referee Novak Simović ruled the effort out for offside.
After that decision had gone in favour of the visitors, Fábio Silva then tried to make amends but his own teammate prevented him from doing so by inadvertently blocking the effort.
The action was swinging from end to end, as Areola then had to react quickly to prevent Yari Verschaeren from beating him. Both Antonio and Lanzini tried to get onto the scoresheet when the next opportunity arrived but unfortunately, neither were able to get a telling touch.
Then Moyes’ men passed up a golden opportunity to go into half-time in front. Benrahma somehow managed to volley over the top when expertly played in by Bowen.
Anderlecht could have gone into the break ahead themselves but in the nick of time, Ogbonna, who was skipper for the evening, produced a crucial block to stop the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee from finding his way to goal.
There was nothing to separate the two teams at half-time but both were determined to go all out in an attempt to grab three more points.
The Irons applied more pressure onto their hosts after the restart with Benrahma once again trying to get the better of van Crombrugge but, as he had been on numerous other occasions, he was out of luck once more. It was then Bowen’s turn to see if he could break the deadlock but instead, his deflected effort meant a corner was awarded. However, when the set-piece was sent into the box, Dawson was unable to direct it on target.
It appeared that everything was going right for West Ham apart from the killer touch in the final third. With that in mind, Moyes decided to make a triple change replacing Lanzini, Benrahma and Antonio with Rice, Paquetá and Scamacca.
The move almost worked wonders, as all three combined to set up Downes who almost claimed his first goal for his boyhood club but unfortunately, his left-footed effort on goal went narrowly wide.
The moment that decided the game finally arrived on seventy nine minutes, as Scamacca followed up his first Premier League goal at the weekend with yet another in Europe to have those who made the trip to Brussels cheering.
With time running out, the East Londoners made a final substitution as Fornals entered the fray in place of Bowen.
With their unbeaten campaign under threat, the hosts tried to level matters in the closing stages. Unfortunately for the East Londoners though, Areola made a quite brilliant save to keep out Silva’s close-range header.
After four minutes of stoppage time had been played, Simović blew the final whistle. Before Moyes’ side meet the Belgians again next Thursday, they are back in Stratford on Sunday afternoon for a London derby against newly-promoted Fulham.