West Ham United need just a point from their remaining two Group B games to make sure they avoid the play-off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League. They followed up last week’s win in Belgium by getting the better of RSC Anderlecht again on Thursday night.
A number of changes were made to Sunday’s starting line-up, as Alphonse Areola was once again preferred to Łukasz Fabiański in goal. Ben Johnson, Angelo Ogbonna, Vladimír Coufal, Flynn Downes, Manuel Lanzini, Emmerson Palmieri and Saïd Benrahma all started. Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals, Tomáš Souček and Gianluca Scamacca dropped to the bench.
Youngsters Oliver Scarles, Connor Coventry, Freddie Potts and Keenan Appiah-Forson were also among the twelve substitutes, while Darren Randolph and Krisztián Hegyi provided goalkeeping cover.
The Hammers won 1-0 in Belgium a week ago, meaning Anderlecht had conceded their first goal in the competition. David Moyes’ side were showing their intent to finish them off in the opening stages. Lucas Paquetá was orchestrating matters in midfield and he had an early effort but, unfortunately for the home faithful, it was blocked.
With Rice not involved from the start, Aaron Cresswell assumed the Captain’s responsibilities and he was next in line to have a go at goal but he sent an effort over the top.
The pressure from the hosts was relentless but the opening goal took fourteen minutes to arrive and it was from another free-kick. I mentioned in my preview to this game that, if he was selected, then Benrahma would be keen to make up for the chances he missed in Brussels last week. Well, he did just that, giving goalkeeper Hendrik van Crombrugge no chance.
This left the Belgian outfit looking for a quick response. Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Fábio Silva was a constant threat seven days ago and he looked as if he would continue that form here. He tested Areola but fortunately, the Frenchman was equal to his effort.
Moyes had to make an early substitution. Ogbonna appeared to pick up an injury and was replaced by Craig Dawson.
West Ham were still in the ascendancy and a second goal arrived with half an hour played. Jarrod Bowen connected with Palmieri’s cross and sent a rocket past van Crombrugge to score his sixth European goal and equal the record held by Johnny Byrne and David Cross.
The visitors were still testing Areola’s reflexes but he did well to keep out Sebastiano Esposito.
If there was something to be critical about as far as the performance from the home side was concerned, it was that they perhaps should have had more goals than just the two at the break. Nevertheless, the home support were pleased when referee Willy Delajod blew for the break.
West Ham changed personnel again before the start of the second-half as Fornals took the place of Paquetá.
It was still one-way traffic when the teams reemerged from the dressing rooms. Palmieri went close but his attempt took a deflection and went out for a corner. The set-piece was then played back to the former Chelsea player who tried his luck again with a long-range effort but it just wasn’t his night as the attempt went inches wide.
More substitutions were made by Moyes as both Rice and Scamacca were introduced for Cresswell and Bowen, while Dawson also sustained an injury and had to come off, meaning Tomáš Souček came on in his place.
The action was back underway and Fornals linked up well with Benrahma but, as he released the ball an Anderlecht player was in the right place to block. The Spaniard also hit the bar minutes later.
In the last minute of the ninety, Delajod awarded the visitors a penalty after Johnson had, rather harshly, been penalised for a foul on Esposito.
Esposito stepped up himself and sent Areola the wrong way but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter as the French referee ended the game after six minutes of stoppage time had been added.
The East Londoners have to get themselves going again for another big week of domestic action, starting with a game against Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday afternoon.