West Ham United and KAA Gent are still locked in battle after a 1-1 draw at Ghelamco Arena on Thursday.
Only Vladimír Coufal, Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, Jarrod Bowen and Danny Ings retained their places from the win at Fulham five days earlier with Alphonse Areola, Ben Johnson, Nayef Aguerd, Emmerson Palmieri, Flynn Downes and Manuel Lanzini replacing Łukasz Fabiański, Aaron Cresswell, Kurt Zouma, Tomáš Souček, Pablo Fornals and Michail Antonio who all dropped to the bench.
Also amongst the substitutes were Thilo Kehrer and Maxwel Cornet alongside youngsters Joseph Anang and Divin Mubama. Lucas Paquetá had returned to the matchday squad after a foot injury.
The Hammers had won all their games in this competition to date and were keen to build on the weekend’s win at newly-promoted Fulham. They started well here and were in the ascendancy but the home side gave them the first test with ten minutes gone through Julien De Sart. Fortunately though, Areola was able to hold onto his effort.
The hosts kept up the pressure and minutes later, they were awarded a corner. Captain Sven Kums took responsibility for the set-piece and his delivery was met by Jordan Torunarigha who headed the ball over the bar.
Alessio Castro-Montes then ran into the box and presented the ball to De Sart but once again, he failed to get the better of Areola.
At this point in the game, it was clear to see that KAA Gent were dominating proceedings but, with five minutes left before half-time, the Irons thought that they had opened the scoring. Bowen delivered a corner towards goal and although home goalkeeper Davy Roef seemed to have claimed the ball, he then dropped it and Aguerd was in the right place to take advantage. Although referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos initially saw nothing wrong, a VAR check spotted that the Moroccan had helped it in with the aid of his hand and the goal wasn’t given.
West Ham didn’t have to wait too long before they were in front however, as they scored during the six minutes of stoppage time that were signalled before the end of the first-half. The hosts weren’t alert to a throw-in from Coufal, Bowen then ran into space and crossed for Ings to put the ball past a helpless Roef to claim his first ever European goal. This meant that the East Londoners were on their way to winning another game in Europe.
It was a different story when Sidiropoulos blew the whistle to restart the action though. On fifty six minutes, the scores were level. The hosts went up another gear and Castro-Montes set up Hugo Cuypers, who finished past Areola.
Six minutes later, David Moyes decided to make a double change with Saïd Benrahma and Antonio coming on for both Lanzini and Ings.
Having found the equaliser, KAA Gent were now searching for a potential advantage to take into the second-leg and they went close too!!! Castro-Montes played through Gift Orban but the danger had passed, as he sent his effort wide.
Moyes brought on his third substitution on seventy four minutes, as Paquetá was introduced to take the place of Downes and the Brazilian midfielder didn’t take long to get into the action. He played a great ball to Bowen, who controlled with his first touch but missed the target with his second. Having said that, Roef had narrowed the angle, as the former Hull City winger went for goal.
The home side were determined to make it difficult for their visitors and on eighty two minutes, Orban nearly had Areola beaten but to the relief of the Hammers, the ball came back off the crossbar.
The Belgians had another chance but thankfully, substitute Tarik Tissoudali couldn’t get a good enough connection to the ball when he tried his luck.
Five minutes later, West Ham made their final substitution, as Cresswell entered the fray for Palmieri.
Despite only three minutes of added time being signalled at the end of the ninety minutes, over six were played as there was further drama. Paquetá was brought down by Kamil Piątkowski. Sidiropoulos gave the player a straight red card. However, on close inspection, VAR intervened once again and it was decided that the home side should not be reduced to ten men because Piątkowski had actually got a vital touch on the ball and was therefore only booked for the challenge.
The tie is all set up for what is surely going to be an exciting second-leg next Thursday night to determine who will go through to the semi-final stage. Before then though, it is back to Premier League action, where Moyes’ men have to find a way of stopping Arsenal’s title charge when the Gunners come to Stratford on Sunday afternoon.