After qualifying for the UEFA Europa League knockout stages on November 30, thanks to a 1-0 win over Serbian side FK TSC Bačka Topola, West Ham United have now achieved their next aim of winning Group A, meaning they will next play in this competition at the beginning of March. David Moyes’ side beat German outfit SC Freiburg 2-0 in Stratford on Thursday night.
Three changes were made to the side that started the demoralising defeat to Fulham four days ago, as Emmerson Palmieri, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Edson Álvarez came into the starting line-up in place of Kurt Zouma, Aaron Cresswell and Pablo Fornals who all dropped to the bench. Alphonse Areola had recovered from his recent wrist injury to take his place amongst the substitutes, along with youngsters Connor Coventry and Divin Mubama.
As he was for the game between these two sides on 5 October, Łukasz Fabiański was named Captain for the evening.
Both teams started well but the Hammers went up through the gears as the first-half wore on. Mohammed Kudus did well to evade the attentions of Jordy Makengo and set up Lucas Paquetá who took aim but his effort unfortunately hit the bar with visiting goalkeeper Noah Atubolu helpless.
The Ghanaian was at it again minutes later and on this occasion, he beat Atubolu. However, the goal had to be checked by VAR for handball but the decision was made quickly for the effort to stand.
There was another check minutes later when Jarrod Bowen added his name to the scoresheet but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Bowen, together with Tomáš Souček continued to apply pressure but neither could get the better of the German stopper this time around.
West Ham remained on top but the Bundesliga side did have their chances to get back into the game through headers from both Nicolas Höfler and Michael Gregoritsch, though neither player seriously troubled Fabiański. However, The Pole was called into action minutes later when Ritsu Doan produced a shot of his own. Fortunately though, the former Arsenal and Swansea City man was equal to the effort.
West Ham were level on points with their opponents before the game and the visitors were made to regret missing those vital chances just before the break. Álvarez played a one-two with Bowen and the Mexican claimed his first goal for the club, to the delight of the majority inside the stadium.
It was a good time for Moyes’ men to score as just four minutes later, referee João Pinheiro blew the whistle for half-time and clinching top spot was not too far away.
The Hammers continued to dominate at the start of the second-half although their opponents were finding their way back into the contest.
On fifty four minutes, Álvarez was replaced by Fornals, due to an injury he picked up during the first forty five minutes.
The Irons were desperate to try and make sure they topped the group as they went in search of more goals. Palmieri went close but unfortunately, Atubolu was in the way. Bowen was desperate to get a goal and it looked as if it would happen when he met Vladimír Coufal’s cross but he couldn’t direct the ball goalwards. Kudus then hit the post as he got in on the act.
With the Irons making no further headway, Merlin Röhl went close on two separate occasions but fortunately, he was unable to pull a goal back. Luckily, neither was Doan!!!
Having already brought on Fornals, Moyes made a double change with seventy two minutes gone when he replaced both Paquetá and Bowen with Mubama and Danny Ings.
A further eighteen minutes had passed before the Scotsman made use of his final two substitutes. Thilo Kehrer and Maxwel Cornet were introduced for Coufal and Kudus. Whilst Vincenzo Grifo was taken off for the visitors, meaning that Noah Weißhaupt entered the fray
Four minutes after those changes had been made, Pinheiro brought proceedings to an end, meaning the home side can look forward to Monday’s draw to see who they will be facing in the next stage of the competition. Before then though, they will attempt to get three points in the Premier League with the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday afternoon.