After the win over Manchester United on Sunday, if West Ham United hadn’t won the first-leg of their UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final, then the three points earned against Erik ten Hag’s side would have meant very little. Thankfully, they do take an advantage to Holland with them next week, as they beat Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar 2-1 in Stratford on Thursday night.
David Moyes made two changes from the team that triumphed against the Red Devils, as Angelo Ogbonna missed the game due to illness and was replaced in the starting line-up by Kurt Zouma, who had returned from a recent ankle injury. As always in Cup competitions, Alphonse Areola was preferred to Łukasz Fabiański in goal with youngster Joseph Anang joining him amongst the substitutes, while the bench also included youngsters Freddie Potts and Divin Mubama.
Any lead that the Hammers could snatch here will be key in terms of knowing what they have to do in a week’s time and they had the best of the chances in what was a pretty turgid first-half. Both Saïd Benrahma and Jarrod Bowen went close on numerous occasions but were unfortunately unable to make them count.
Lucas Paquetá thought he might have been awarded a free-kick but was less than impressed when referee Halil Umut Meler didn’t give anything.
That was to prove costly, as the visitors then went on the counter-attack and within seconds they were ahead through Tijjani Reijnders, as he beat Areola from distance, though the Frenchman perhaps should have done better.
The Irons needed to find an equaliser and Bowen had a great chance to get his side level but he headed a cross from Captain Declan Rice over the bar.
Another chance came and went the way of the home side and the former Hull City winger was involved again. This time, Michail Antonio ran into space but couldn’t pick his teammate out.
There was only one side in the game up to this point, as West Ham continued to pile on the pressure. They were in on goal once again but the scores remained deadlocked, as former Brighton and Hove Albion and Arsenal goalkeeper Mathew Ryan managed to push Benrahma’s effort wide.
The majority inside the stadium were understandably frustrated when Halil Umut Meler blew the whistle for half-time. The vast number of home supporters in attendance had already seen their team overturn a one-goal deficit in the quarter-final against Belgian side KAA Gent and they were hoping to see a repeat.
Thankfully, they started the second-half on the front foot but were still unable to find a breakthrough.
Bowen got into a dangerous position but saw another attempt go inches wide, before he brought about the turning point of the game. Ryan got above everyone to try and reach the ball but instead caught Bowen in the head.
With that, the Turkish referee immediately pointed to the spot. Benrahma is the regular penalty taker these days and he made no mistake when he was given the responsibility again here. The winger smashed the ball past the Australian on sixty seven minutes to the relief of all those wearing Claret and Blue.
Well, the tables certainly turned after that let me tell you!!! The Hammers took just nine more minutes to finally go ahead. Rice sent a corner over and Nayef Aguerd sent it towards goal. Antonio was then on hand to have the simplest of finishes past a helpless Ryan.
Now, Moyes’ men were really piling on the pressure in search of a third goal to surely make the tie safe, let alone just this match. Unfortunately though, nothing was coming off for them.
The former Everton, Manchester United and Sunderland boss made his first change with eleven minutes to play as Danny Ings replaced Antonio and he nearly made the immediate impact he was sent on for. However, the combination play between him and Benrahma was progressing well and the all-important third goal may have arrived but the Algerian wasn’t able to add what would have been his second.
More chances arrived for the East Londoners to give themselves a healthier aggregate lead to take into the second-leg were passed up, as Bowen again tried his luck, before Ings almost got his name on the scoresheet but in the end, Moyes will be pleased that his side into next week’s deciding encounter ahead but, only by one goal.
Before the trip to the Netherlands, West Ham face their last London derby of the season on Sunday afternoon, as they go to The Gtech Community Stadium and take on the challenge of Brentford.