European Run Extended With Freiburg Victory

Last week’s narrow 1-0 defeat to German outfit SC Freiburg meant it was all set up for a great night under the lights in Stratford on Thursday night and as they did in 2022 against Sevilla, West Ham United overturned a one-goal deficit and romped to a 5-0 victory on the night, meaning they progressed through 5-1 on aggregate.

David Moyes made four changes to the team that produced a stunning comeback to draw with newly-promoted Burnley five days earlier, as Łukasz Fabiański, Kurt Zouma, Edson Álvarez and Michail Antonio came into the starting line-up in place of Alphonse Areola, Kalvin Phillips, James Ward-Prowse and Nayef Aguerd all dropping to the bench.

Youngster Jacob Knightbridge joined Areola as goalkeeping cover, while George Earthy, Kaelan Casey, Lewis Orford and Divin Mubama were also included in the matchday squad.

Despite the unusual kick-off time, there was still a large number of fans to get behind the home side and they certainly did from referee Marco Guida’s first whistle. Not only that, but they could have been celebrating a goal as early as the fourth minute.

A Vladimír Coufal throw-in caused problems for Noah Atubolu, who gave away a corner. Having said that, he was under considerable pressure from both Tomáš Souček and Jarrod Bowen.

Bowen was still applying pressure however and sent an effort high and wide, before a succession of corners followed for the home side.

It was only a matter of time before one of them counted when Lucas Paquetá met Souček’s flick-on and bundled the ball into the net at the back post and Moyes’ men were back in the tie with only nine minutes gone. Cue elation from the majority inside the stadium!!!

With the tie now level, West Ham knew that they would need further goals to avoid the possibility of both extra-time and penalties but the visitors were still posing a threat themselves. Roland Sallai was presented with the ball in the box but fortunately, he didn’t hit the target.

The Irons then should have extended their advantage when Mohammed Kudus but he put his chance wide when Antonio spotted him in a good position.

There was then action at both ends. First, Kudus did well to prevent Ritsu Doan getting a shot on goal before thirty minutes had even been played!!! Bowen held off the challenge of Christian Günter and beat Atubolu to claim his first European goal of the season.

Both Maximilian Eggestein and Vincenzo Grifo both tested Fabiański but, to be fair, neither effort troubled the Pole in the Hammers’ goal.

One minute of stoppage time was added before the break and I bet that the home support were more pleased with that first-half performance than they were with the one that was on display against Vincent Kompany’s men on Sunday.

At half-time, the man who made the difference in last week’s encounter was again introduced, as Michael Gregoritsch came on for Lucas Höler. Moyes’ men just hoped that he wasn’t about to do it again.

The Bundesliga outfit were dumped out of the competition at this stage last season and looked as if that would be replicated by the time that Aaron Cresswell had put the Irons further ahead just seven minutes after the restart. A great ball from Bowen was helped into the path of the former Ipswich Town defender via a Freiburg deflection. Most fans were expecting him to hit the ball first time but he decided to take an extra touch. Nevertheless, it still went flying past Atubolu.

Both the Irons’ boss and his coaching staff thought the game was safe by this point so they decided to make a first change by bringing on Ward-Prowse to take the place of Paquetá. It was clear to see that the Brazilian midfielder was frustrated by the thinking of his manager!!!

Freiburg also changed personnel with Lukas Kübler entering the fray for Manuel Gulde and Florent Muslija coming on for Höler.

Coufal had the option of going to go in the seventy third minute but instead he played the ball in the direction of Bowen but, before it could get to him, an SC Freiburg player got in the way.

With thirteen minutes to play, the East Londoners confirmed their place in the quarter-final. A mesmeric run from Kudus, which saw him beat three defenders, meant that he’d finally got his name on the scoresheet for the first time since 23 December.

Minutes after that goal, Moyes made another change as he replaced Antonio with Ben Johnson.

With five minutes of the ninety left to play, the former Ajax Winger had claimed another goal when he produced a good finish from the edge of the area.

There was time for more alterations from Moyes, as Edson Álvarez, Kudus and Bowen all made way for Phillips, Danny Ings and Earthy.

Coufal wasn’t giving up on trying to get his first goal for the club and he again went close as the game went into two minutes of additional time but that elusive first goal still awaits the Czech.

When Guida blow the final whistle, the only feeling amongst the ever-loyal fan base was that of delight. They will now to follow that result up and go into the international break on a high with three points against Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon.

In other news, the draw for both the quarter-final and semi-final stages of the competition was made earlier today and it’s two-legged tie against German opposition. The Irons will first head back to Germany and face Bayer Leverkusen with the first-leg taking place on Thursday 11 April, with the second-leg following a week later. Both ties have a kick-off time of 8pm.

Then, should they progress further, the semi-final will be against either AC Milan or AS Roma.