In their previous two European campaigns under David Moyes, West Ham United have finished top of their group. Well, they made a good start their third European campaign in a row and are in that position again. However, they had to come from behind to beat Serbian side FK TSC Bačka Topola 3-1 in Stratford on Thursday night.
The Hammers’ boss had already spoken about the need to rotate his squad for the cup competitions this season and nine alterations were made here. Łukasz Fabiański, Aaron Cresswell, Angelo Ogbonna, Thilo Kehrer, Pablo Fornals, Danny Ings, Saïd Benrahma, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Mohammed Kudus all came into the starting line-up, as Alphonse Areola, Vladimír Coufal, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Emmerson Palmieri, Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Tomáš Souček all dropped to the bench, while Edson Álvarez was serving one-match ban. Lucas Paquetá and James Ward-Prowse were the only players to retain their places from the defeat to Manchester City five days earlier.
Also amongst the substitutes were Ben Johnson, Connor Coventry, Joseph Anang and Divin Mubama.
The East London faithful expected their team to dominate their opponents from the first whistle and they did just that. The only problem was that it took time to make the all-important breakthrough, despite almost the entire team trying their luck.
Saša Jovanović then tested Fabiański but thankfully for the Irons, his attempt was easy for the Pole to gather.
Moyes’ men continued to pile on the pressure but the ball just wouldn’t go into the back of the net for them. They were completely in control until the visitors had another chance when Petar Stanić delivered a corner into the box and Nemanja Stojić headed against the crossbar.
When Referee Filip Glova blew the whistle for half-time, although the large home support were pleased that their team were in the game, they still would have expected to be in front.
During the break, Moyes made his first change by replacing Cresswell with Palmieri.
The second-half was meant to provide West Ham with the springboard to score goals. However, with forty seven minutes gone, Fabiański was beaten, which certainly wasn’t in the script!!! Stanić pounced on a mistake from Ogbonna but thankfully, there was still time to turn the game around.
The hosts were in need of an equaliser and with that in mind, Moyes made his second substitution and changed formation, as he brought on Antonio for Fornals just after the hour mark.
Antonio’s fresh legs seemed to fire the hosts up and they were soon back on level terms. Benrahma created space and sent over a right-footed cross. Kudus met the delivery but the smallest of touches from Nemanja Petrović meant that he beat his own goalkeeper- Nikola Simić and you could feel the relief from the majority inside the stadium.
Kudus would have wanted to claim his first goal for his new club on his debut but it wasn’t to be until five minutes later, when he beat Simić, following what is now becoming a regular occurrence. A trademark Ward-Prowse assist!!! The midfielder sent the ball into the danger area and the club’s newest recruit gave the goalkeeper no chance.
Just six minutes after that goal, Moyes made his third change when he introduced Souček to replace Ings.
Both teams then had chances through Paquetá and Jovanović but to be fair, neither were going to affect the scoreline!!!
By this point, West Ham were beginning to exert more control on the contest and just five minutes after he entered the fray, Souček was in for a piece of the action when he was on the end of you guessed it… Another set-piece from Ward-Prowse.
The home side made their final substitution with four minutes of normal time to play, as Maxwel Cornet replaced Paquetá.
After his goal, Souček tried to put the gloss on what was eventually a good night’s work for the Hammers but having said that, so did Antonio and Mavropanos.
When the final whistle blew, loud cheers could be heard from the home support, as another European triumph was confirmed!!! After the disappointment of the defeat to Manchester City last weekend, Moyes’ men will try all they can not to suffer the same fate at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.