In many of his European pre-match news conferences over the last two seasons, David Moyes has expressed his ambition to take West Ham United to a final. Well, he’s now done exactly that, as the Hammers won the second-leg of their UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final tie against AZ Alkmaar 1-0 at AFAS Stadion on Thursday night, meaning they progress 3-1 on aggregate. The Irons will now face Italian outfit ACF Fiorentina in Prague on Wednesday 7 June.
Moyes named an unchanged side from the first-leg in Stratford a week ago, as Łukasz Fabiański, Ben Johnson, Flynn Downes, Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini, Maxwel Cornet, Angelo Ogbonna, Emmerson Palmieri and Danny Ings all made way for Alphonse Areola, Kurt Zouma, Aaron Cresswell, Thilo Kehrer, Lucas Paquetá, Jarrod Bowen, Declan Rice and Saïd Benrahma who were restored to the starting line-up. Vladimír Coufal was back on the bench, as the Czech had returned from a recent hamstring injury, while young goalkeeper Joseph Anang provided extra cover for Areola amongst the substitutes.
The hosts hadn’t been beaten in twenty five home games going into this match and they were obviously keen to try and overturn the 2-1 deficit from the first-leg and they were on the front foot when referee Ivan Kružliak blew his first whistle.
Searching for a breakthrough, the hosts were passing the ball around but thankfully for the visitors, both Tomáš Souček and Rice were on hand to produce crucial blocks.
West Ham weathered the initial storm and then started to pile the pressure on. They had numerous chances to go ahead but weren’t able to make any of them count.
Then, an even better opportunity arrived when Paquetá tried his luck. Home goalkeeper Mathew Ryan was beaten but unfortunately for the travelling support, the ball hit the post.
When Kružliak brought the first-half to a close, the game was still goalless. The visitors would have been happy with this outcome because a goal for AZ Alkmaar would give them hope of progressing to the final. On the other hand, Moyes’ men were determined to increase their advantage here, as it would provide them with further breathing space.
The end-to-end nature of the game continued into the second half, as both goalkeepers were tested within minutes of the restart. Sven Mijnans was thwarted by Areola, while seconds later, Rice was unable to get the better of Ryan.
The East Londoners obviously wanted to build on what they already had, whereas the home fans were desperate to see their team level matters. Both Myron van Brederode and Yukinari Sugawara might have had chances to do so but Nayef Aguerd and Rice were in the way and the aggregate lead remained intact. When more pressure came the way of the Hammers, both Zouma and Cresswell were also on hand to clear the danger.
As the game went on, the hosts were still trying to find a way through, while Moyes’ men were showing grit and determination in order to keep them out.
With seventy five minutes gone and still no change in the scoreline, Moyes decided that substitutions were needed. The first alteration saw Fornals being introduced for Saïd Benrahma.
No sooner was the change made, than West Ham went extremely close to breaking the deadlock. Bowen ran into space but failed to find Souček, before Aguerd thought he had found the all-important opener but the ball unfortunately missed the target by inches.
There was a scare for the visiting team though, as Kehrer nearly put the ball into his own net. Fortunately though, his blushes were spared.
On eighty four minutes, Moyes made a second change, as Ings replaced Michail Antonio. The former Nottingham Forest frontman was fit enough to start this match after missing the encounter at The Gtech Community Stadium with a knock picked up in the meeting between these two sides last week.
Downes entered the fray for Paquetá with just two of the five added minutes having been played. However, there was enough time for one more twist, as the home side’s resistance was finally broken. Fornals raced up the field and slotted past Ryan to send those who had made the journey from East London ballistic.
With that, Kružliak brought the night to an end and the celebrations could begin. However, the visitors know that they can’t look ahead to the final just yet as attention must now turn to getting more points in order to confirm their Premier League place for next season. All that’s needed is a result against Leeds United in Stratford on Sunday afternoon.