Aston Villa may still be waiting for a win in Stratford but on the plus side for West Ham United, Sunday afternoon’s 1-1 draw lifted them back out of the relegation zone. The result also meant that the Hammers failed to clinch their first double of the season.
David Moyes made five changes to Thursday’s side that won the first-leg of their UEFA Europa Conference Round of 16 tie against AEK Larnaca, as Aaron Cresswell, Manuel Lanzini, Flynn Downes, Pablo Fornals and Michail Antonio all made way for Emmerson Palmieri, Jarrod Bowen and Danny Ings to come into the starting line-up. Lucas Paquetá passed a late fitness test to regain his place in midfield, while Thilo Kehrer and Kurt Zouma returned to Premier League action.
Cresswell and Fornals dropped to the bench. Flynn Downes was included amongst the substitutes despite suffering with a foot injury, while Maxwel Cornet was also selected, as he looks to continue his recovery from a long-standing calf injury.
After Saturday’s results, the Irons had dropped back into the bottom three and they were keen to make a bright start here but they didn’t. On seventeen minutes, the visitors opened the scoring when January signing Álex Moreno crossed for Oliver Watkins to head past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
The East Londoners needed a quick response and got it nine minutes later, Paquetá seemed certain to score but Watkins cleared the ball off the line, before Leon Bailey brought the Brazilian midfielder down and referee Christopher Kavanagh gave the hosts the chance to equalise from the spot.
It was left to Saïd Benrahma to step up and beat Emiliano Martínez and he smashed the ball into the net to draw his team level.
As it did three days earlier, the goal sparked West Ham into life and the Algerian winger then crossed for Zouma, who nearly scored but unfortunately, his header just missed the target.
The former Brentford player could have doubled his tally when he tried to beat Villa’s Argentinian goalkeeper from distance but Martínez saw it all the way and held his well-struck shot.
It seemed that he wasn’t finished there however, as he then tried his luck again but this time, he sent his effort over the bar.
Whilst the home support were paying tribute to former youngster Dylan Tombides in the thirty eighth minute, their team were piling on the pressure and a second goal almost arrived for the man of the moment however, Benrahma couldn’t make the most of the chance and Unai Emery’s side could breathe once more.
Just before half-time, Areola made a crucial save from Watkins to prevent the villains from taking the advantage into the break.
The second-half had barely began and the hosts were inches away from turning the game on its head. Just twenty seconds after Kavanagh had blown the whistle for the restart, a great team move involving Benrahma, Bowen and Paquetá resulted in the ball being played back to the Algerian who went for goal again but it didn’t come off for him on this occasion, as he hit the ball straight at Martínez.
By this point, there was only one team looking to win the match and chances kept coming for the Hammers. The only problem was, they were able to finish them off. Their next chance came when Ings set up Paquetá but there wasn’t a Claret and Blue shirt in sight that was able to follow up. Seconds later, Benrahma tried again to notch up his second goal but he shot over, to the disappointment of the home faithful.
A corner kick was then awarded the way of the home side. Captain Declan Rice sent it into the box, where it just eluded Palmieri, who was lurking at the back post.
Seventy seven minutes had elapsed before Moyes made his first change, as Fornals was introduced in place of Paquetá.
It didn’t take long for the Spaniard to get involved in the action however, as a cross from Bowen found the midfielder but he was unable to get a proper connection to the ball.
Fornals was again involved in their next move as he played the ball into Benrahma’s feet but Ashley Young, who had just been introduced as part of a double change with Emery taking off Matty Cash and Emiliano Buendía, while Jhon Durán was also brought on.
With four minutes of normal time to play, Cornet entered the fray for Ings and with six minutes of stoppage time added on to the ninety, he almost made the desired impact but sent his attempt narrowly wide. Had it been on target, it wouldn’t have counted, as the Ivorian international was in an offside position.
The full-time whistle was then blown, leaving the Irons to focus on building on the two-goal advantage they currently hold from the first-leg against the Cypriots when European football returns to Stratford on Thursday night.