Hammers Get Second Crack At Europa League

What a job David Moyes has done since returning to West Ham United in December 2019!!! He has steered the club away from relegation, got them to the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League last season and on Wednesday night, he guided his team to a 2-1 win over Italian side ACF Fiorentina to win the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The Scotsman made five changes to the team that played at The King Power Stadium, as Alphonse Areola, Kurt Zouma, Emmerson Palmieri, Tomáš Souček and Jarrod Bowen came into the starting line-up in place of Łukasz Fabiański, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Thilo Kehrer and Flynn Downes, who were all named amongst the substitutes. Youngsters Freddie Potts and Divin Mubama were also named in the matchday squad.

Vladimír Coufal retained his place from the defeat on 28 May to make his 100th start for the club.

ACF Fiorentina had only finished their domestic fixture programme a matter of days before this huge encounter, whereas the Irons were last in action nine days earlier. This perhaps explains their nervy overall start to the game. Having said that, they did go close early on. Michail Antonio had a shot but it was straight at goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano.

Shortly after Antonio failed to make the most of the early chance, the Italians then piled on the pressure and Rolando Mandragora tried his luck from distance but actually, it was nowhere near Areola’s goal.

To be fair to Moyes’ men, they were putting all their efforts into the contest and might have gone in front through Captain Declan Rice when good play from both Coufal and Zouma set up the skipper, who went for goal but unfortunately, he just missed the target.

ACF Fiorentina once again exerted a degree of control on the match. They were awarded a corner and Captain Cristiano Biraghi sent the delivery into the box, only for Nikola Milenković to head over the bar. The pressure did not subside there however, as Nicolás González looked as if he was going to shoot but for a quite superb block by Nayef Aguerd.

The East Londoners again tried to break. Coufal crossed for Souček, and although Bowen was racing to meet the ball, he failed to get a telling touch on it.

The Irons survived a major scare just before the break when Luka Jović beat Areola after Christian Kouamé’s header had come back off the post. However, the linesman had raised his flag, meaning the goal was ruled out and VAR confirmed that this was the right decision.

Thankfully, the game remained level as referee Carlos del Cerro Grande blew the half-time whistle.

When the action recommenced, Saïd Benrahma went ever so close to breaking the deadlock but instead, his effort went inches wide and they were awarded a corner. Unfortunately, nothing came from the set-piece.

The Italian outfit continued to push forward but just past the hour mark, the Spanish referee who had initially waved away penalty claims from West Ham after the ball had hit Biraghi’s hand was advised to consult the pitchside monitor. After a lengthy check, he decided to reverse his original decision.

Zouma picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Kehrer, before Benrahma could take the kick. Nevertheless, the winger stepped up and converted, giving Terracciano no chance.

The goal was definitely against the run of play however, the Hammers weren’t in front for too long!!! Just five more minutes had been played when Giacomo Bonaventura produced an exquisite finish from a González knock-down to beat Areola.

ACF Fiorentina could have turned the game around minutes later when Mandragora went close but, to West Ham’s relief, his attempt was wide. Up the other end, Terracciano did brilliantly to keep out Souček’s header.

On seventy six minutes, Moyes made his second change of the night as Pablo Fornals entered the fray for Benrahma.

It was looking as if Moyes’ men would be heading into extra-time for the first time this season but they wanted to finish the game without the need for an extra thirty minutes.

Five minutes were added on for either team to grab a winner and it turned out that the match would not need to be extended, as just seconds into the allotted period, Lucas Paquetá played the perfect ball into Bowen’s path and with Terracciano advancing off his line, the former Hull City player slotted the ball home. Bringing jubilation from the travelling fans from East London massed behind that goal.

The Irons’ boss made a final change with three of the added minutes gone, as Ogbonna came on for Antonio.

The final whistle blew and even greater scenes were in evidence. We can now finally say that West Ham have added to their trophy Cabinet and it was lifted by Rice. Not only that, the victory also means that they have secured European football for a third successive campaign: the first time they have achieved this particular feat in their history. They will be back playing in the UEFA Europa League next season.

The 2023/24 Premier League fixtures are published next Thursday and news of that, plus transfers both in and out of Stratford will be available on this site throughout the summer.