West Ham United ensured that there will be European football in Stratford early next year for the third consecutive season. However, they still need a point against SC Freiburg to avoid a play-off game after another late goal saw them secure a 1-0 win against Serbian side FK TSC Bačka Topola on Thursday.
Only Nayef Aguerd, James Ward-Prowse, Lucas Paquetá and Tomáš Souček retained their places from the team that squeezed past newly-promoted Burnley five days earlier, with Łukasz Fabiański, Ben Johnson, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Fornals, Saïd Benrahma and Divin Mubama coming into the starting line-up. Benrahma was making his 150th appearance for the club.
Youngsters Joseph Anang, Oliver Scarles, Connor Coventry, Lewis Orford and Dan Chesters were named in the matchday squad.
The Hammers knew they needed a win to ensure progression to the next stage but it proved to be difficult on a cold night in Serbia. Uroš Milovanović had the first effort on goal but it was well dealt with by Fabiański.
For whatever reason, Moyes’ men just couldn’t get a rhythm going and a mistake from Cresswell was pounced upon by Aleksandar Ćirković just after the half-hour mark. He tried to take the shot on but fortunately for the small number of fans that made the journey from East London, Fabiański was in the way.
Those who had made the trip would have seen their side go in front a minute later, as Souček combined well with Benrahma for the Algerian to slot into the net but instead, the effort was straight at home goalkeeper Veljko Ilić.
Before referee Allard Lindhout blew for half-time, Souček was on the end of a Ward-Prowse free-kick but he failed to take full advantage of the chance.
It was an edgy affair in the first-half and to be fair, nothing really changed after the break with both teams still trying to find a way through. With an hour gone, Nikola Kuveljić tried to get the better of Fabiański but his attempt was too easy for the Pole to gather.
Moyes made a double change seven minutes later when he introduced both Danny Ings and Maxwel Cornet for Benrahma and Mubama.
Paquetá had a chance to open the scoring five minutes later but the Brazilian midfielder saw his shot take a deflection and go over the crossbar, while the home side successfully managed to deal with a number of Ward-Prowse corners.
Four minutes later, another double substitution was made by the Irons, as both Thilo Kehrer and Emerson Palmieri were introduced for Johnson and Cresswell.
Although a point wouldn’t have been seen as a good result by the visitors, as the match drew to a close, I bet they would have just been glad to have come away with something. However, they finally clinched all three in the eighty ninth minute when Cornet sent over an accurate cross and yet again, Souček was on hand to put in the winner to have the away end cheering at last!!!
Another big week lies ahead for the East Londoners as they play three consecutive London derbies in the Premier League, starting with the visit of Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.