West Ham United may have already won UEFA Europa Conference League Group B seven days earlier with a 1-0 win over Danish Superliga outfit Silkeborg IF and on Thursday night, the Hammers maintained their winning record in the competition, thanks to a 3-0 victory over Romanian Liga I side FCSB.
David Moyes stated he was going to name a different team to the one that lost at Old Trafford at the weekend even before that game took place and he was true to his word. Names such as Alphonse Areola, Vladimír Coufal, Ben Johnson, Nayef Aguerd, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals all came in. Fornals was making is 350th appearance for the club.
Youngsters Connor Coventry and Oliver Scarles made up the rest of the starting line-up. A number of Development Squad players also made the bench, as Freddie Potts, Keenan Appiah-Forson, Harrison Ashby, Divin Mubama, Regan Clayton, Michael Forbes, Kamarai Swyer, Kaelan Casey and Lewis Orford all took their places alongside goalkeepers Darren Randolph and Krisztián Hegyi.
Going into this game, the home side had only acquired two points from five games and were bottom of the group as a result. To be brutally honest, this was in evidence from kick-off and West Ham were afforded space throughout but chance after chance came and went.
Mubama was first to try his luck after clever play from both Downes and Coufal had set him up but unfortunately, for both the youngster and all that came to see him make his debut, he was unable to reach the ball as it was just too far ahead of him and the chance had gone.
He nearly had another chance when Fornals also set him up but this time, his shot was kept out by Ștefan Târnovanu.
Downes also went close but the home stopper also made a magnificent save to prevent him from getting in on the act.
Bizarrely, West Ham had never won a match in Romania and they were desperate to try and change their luck here. Mubama was creating all the early pressure and he went close again when he got a touch on the cross from Scarles but just couldn’t apply the finish to beat Târnovanu.
Just before the break, Fornals, who was making his 150th appearance for the Hammers, showed the youngsters exactly how it’s done when he produced a great effort to put the ball past Târnovanu. The Spanish midfielder may have been marginally offside but with no VAR or goal-line technology in operation, referee Sascha Stegemann allowed the goal and the decision delighted the small number who had made the journey from East London.
During the half-time break, the visitors would have been pleased to be in front and were now looking to end the game as a contest.
The Irons applied more pressure at the start of the second-half and the youngsters continued to show why Moyes had put his faith in them. Scarles was particularly playing well: picking out a few passes before sending an inviting cross into the area but unfortunately, nobody was able to benefit.
Mubama had been a constant threat all night and on fifty six minutes, the Hammers went further ahead. He headed past Târnovanu and into the net, although it appeared that Joyskim Dawa got the final touch.
Nine minutes later, Fornals added his second of the night when he pounced on the loose ball, following a mistake from Târnovanu to beat the goalkeeper again.
With the East Londoners looking very comfortable by this point, Moyes made his first four changes, as he replaced Coufal, Downes, Fornals and Mubama with Ashby, Appiah-Forson, Potts and Swyer.
The visitors continued to dominate but couldn’t find a fourth goal to top off what had been a great performance.
One more youngster was able to make his debut for the club, as Casey replaced Johnson with just over ten minutes to play.
Such was the dominance of the East Londoners that Areola didn’t have a serious save to make until late on in the game but he still denied the hosts a goal.
After two minutes of stoppage time had been signalled, the Hammers were able to celebrate what was a remarkable achievement and can look forward to seeing who they will face in the Round of 16 when the draw is made on February 24.
It’s back to domestic matters for the foreseeable future though, with a Premier League London derby at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.