West Ham United are through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa Conference League after a 4-0 win in the second-leg of their Round of 16 tie against Cypriot outfit AEK Larnaca in Stratford on Thursday night.
David Moyes made six changes from Sunday’s draw with Aston Villa, as Ben Johnson, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Gianluca Scamacca all came into the starting line-up with Danny Ings, Nayef Aguerd, Thilo Kehrer, Saïd Benrahma, Declan Rice and Emmerson Palmieri dropping to the bench with Ogbonna handed the Captain’s armband for the evening.
Youngsters Joseph Anang, Krisztián Hegyi, Freddie Potts, Divin Mubama and Levi Laing were also part of the matchday squad.
Looking to extend their advantage after coming away from Cyprus with a 2-0 lead, the Hammers were on top in the early stages and this was clearly evident when Scamacca tried his luck from 25-yards but unfortunately, the striker’s effort went narrowly wide.
It was then time for the visitors to have a go from long-range but luckily, Alphonse Areola wasn’t even tested by Nemanja Nikolić.
Lucas Paquetá had a chance to put his side in front with nineteen minutes gone when he combined to good effect with Lanzini but, as the Brazilian midfielder struck the shot, it was unfortunately blocked by Nenad Tomović.
Seconds later, the hosts extended their aggregate lead. Lanzini was still in the thick of the action when he received the ball from Fornals and set up Scamacca to score his first goal after returning from injury. The Italian managed to squeeze the ball under visiting goalkeeper Kenan Pirić. Just minutes later, he beat Pirić again but it was ruled out by VAR for offside.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, the visitors thought they had one goal back, as Nikolić beat Areola but their joy was short lived, as VAR intervened again and disallowed the goal for offside.
Now, West Ham really wanted to finish the job off and they went close on two occasions but neither Jarrod Bowen, nor Fornals could quite add to the scoreline yet. The Spaniard’s effort came back off the crossbar, while Bowen missed the target.
Just before half-time, the visitors were reduced to ten men. Referee Georgi Kabakov initially gave Gustavo Ledes a yellow card for a dangerous-looking challenge on Fornals. After consulting the pitchside monitor, the booking was upgraded and he was to play no further part in the contest. The home side would have scored a second but Pirić held onto Tomáš Souček’s attempt.
Nevertheless, the hosts were still ahead on the night but were not content with just the one goal.
That definitely proved to be the case as the Hammers went goal-crazy when the second-half began. Bowen added his name to the scoresheet just eighty one seconds after the action was back underway, when he pounced following Pirić’s save from Scamacca. The former Hull City winger is now West Ham’s all-time top European goalscorer.
He was soon in for another goal to all but confirm a quarter-final place for his side when he played the ball to Aaron Cresswell and when the former Ipswich Town defender crossed back for him, it dropped nicely onto his head and deflected past Pirić, by his deft header.
Moyes made a triple change with fifty four minutes gone, as Scamacca, Bowen and Paquetá were replaced by Mubama, Ings and Maxwel Cornet.
With the East Londoners really piling the pressure on by this point, it wasn’t long before another goal arrived, on sixty five minutes, they had wrappaed the game up. Mubama thought he’d got his first goal for the club when the Hammers faced FCSB back in November but it unfortunately went down as an own goal. However, this one definitely was his and the celebrations showed just what it meant to him.
Three minutes later, Moyes made another double change when he withdrew both Kurt Zouma and Souček in order to give Laing his debut for the club, while the Scotsman also introduced Potts.
The game was well beyond the visitors but to be fair to them, they did keep going but none of their efforts in the closing stages troubled Areola.
Kabakov then brought proceedings to an end, meaning West Ham can now look forward to a two-legged quarter-final against Belgian outfit KAA Gent with the tie commencing on Thursday 13 April. Before then though, the Irons are back in action on 2 April with a crucial home game against Southampton.