European football will return to Stratford in March as West Ham United are through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League, following a 1-0 win over Danish Superliga side Silkeborg IF on Thursday night.
Only Ben Johnson and Saïd Benrahma retained their places in the side from Monday night’s victory over newly-promoted AFC Bournemouth with David Moyes making nine changes.
Alphonse Areola replaced Łukasz Fabiański in goal, while Vladimír Coufal was restored to the starting line-up. Summer signing Nayef Aguerd finally made his debut for the club after he was deemed fit enough, following a lengthy period on the sidelines due to an ankle injury. Angelo Ogbonna joined them in defence.
Manuel Lanzini, Emmerson Palmieri, Pablo Fornals and youngster Connor Coventry made up a five-man midfield, while Michail Antonio was preferred to Gianluca Scamacca upfront.
Krisztián Hegyi joined Darren Randolph on the bench, while youngsters Freddie Potts and Keenan Appiah-Forson were amongst the twelve substitutes with Kurt Zouma, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Tomáš Souček and Flynn Downes all given a rest ahead of Sunday’s Premier League encounter away at Manchester United.
The Hammers knew that they only needed a single point from their last two games in order to win Group B but they were obviously keen to cement their place in the knockout stages as soon as possible.
The game started much faster than the clash against the Cherries just three days earlier and Aguerd was also looking lively on his first appearance in front of the home fans. The Moroccan international played a great ball over to fellow defender Coufal but unfortunately, the attack couldn’t progress any further, as Lukas Klitten was alert to the danger and broke it up.
The East Londoners kept up the pressure and had another chance to go ahead with just fifteen minutes gone. Antonio played in Coventry, who was inches away from putting the hosts ahead on his full home debut but unfortunately, his attempt was saved by visiting goalkeeper Nicolai Larsen.
Antonio was involved again soon after, as he was tripped in the penalty area by Larsen. Referee Joni Hyytiä had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Lanzini scored a penalty in the reverse fixture back on September 15 and, to the delight of the majority inside the stadium, it was the same result here. The home fans were just hoping that the tempo could continue if there advantage was to increase and well, then that would have done them nicely.
It was clear that Benrahma was brimming with confidence after getting his name on the scoresheet last time out and he nearly claimed his second goal in three days but his effort unfortunately came back off the crossbar just minutes before the break.
Unusually, no stoppage time was added on at the end of the first-half and the Irons hoped that the visitors wouldn’t rediscover their recent European form.
There was little change in the rhythm of the game after the teams had reemerged from the dressing rooms, as the home side continued their domination.
Fornals had an early chance to extend their advantage when he found himself in a great position but only fired wide.
Benrahma should have made the evening more comfortable for his side but after doing all the hard work, his shot was cleared off the line.
Both managers made substitutions on sixty eight minutes. Moyes made a double change, bringing on Downes and Scamacca to take the place of Fornals and Benrahma, while the Danes introduced Toni Adamsen for Nicklas Helenius and seconds later, Mads Kaalund entered the fray for Anders Klynge.
Areola hadn’t been tested much in the game but, when he was, the Frenchman dealt with everything that the away team could throw at him. The visitors then began searching for an equaliser. The Frenchman produced great reflexes to deny both Klynge and Søren Tengstedt.
Moyes tried all he could to help his team kill the game off. On seventy six minutes he made another substitution as Ogbonna, who was named Captain for the evening, was replaced by Thilo Kehrer.
Both managers shuffled their pack for one last time, as the visitors withdrew Tengstedt and threw on Alexander Lind, while the Irons’ boss turned to Rice and Souček, as Antonio and Coventry were taken off.
Scamacca could have scored the goal that West Ham were so desperate for in the closing stages but instead, the striker sent a shot high and wide.
Three minutes of stoppage time were signalled and although Moyes’ men had chances throughout the match, when Hyytiä blew the final whistle, they had to settle for just the one goal.
Having won both games so far this week, the task ahead of Moyes now is to engineer his first ever Premier League win at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.