Leverkusen Continue Unbeaten Run As Hammers Exit Europe

West Ham United won the UEFA Europa Conference League last season but their European hopes are sadly over for 2023/24 after they couldn’t overturn a two-goal deficit against Bayer Leverkusen. A 1-1 draw in Stratford on Thursday night wasn’t enough and sees the Bundesliga side through to the semi-final stage of the competition after winning the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Lucas Paquetá was missing through suspension but the good news for the Hammers was that Jarrod Bowen was fit enough to start after recovering from the hip injury that the winger sustained against Wolverhampton Wanderers twelve days earlier.

Three more changes were made, as Emmerson Palmieri was also suspended, meaning Aaron Cresswell returned to the starting line-up, while Kurt Zouma and Tomáš Souček were rested for the weekend’s 2-0 defeat by Fulham here and regained their places. The injury to Konstantinos Mavropanos meant that Nayef Aguerd was rewarded with another chance to start. Alphonse Areola was still not fit to take his place back from Łukasz Fabiański, meaning the Pole started on his 39th birthday.

Danny Ings was dropped to the bench where he joined youngsters Lewis Orford, Divin Mubama, Joseph Anang, Jacob Knightbridge, Kamarai Swyer and Kaelan Casey.

The Irons went into the game having turned European deficits around in Stratford previously. Could they do it again? Well, the atmosphere was certainly as good as it’s been when other European teams have come here and that helped to produce a frenetic start from the hosts.

If the visitors scored another goal, then it would have made the task even harder for the East Londoners!!! They nearly did when former Southampton youngster Nathan Tella tried his luck from long-range but thankfully, Fabiański was able to deal with the effort.

David Moyes saw his side take control of the opening stages against the Cottagers four days ago but, the problem was, they were unable to get into any sort of rhythm as the game went on.

Here, they obviously have had a real taste of what European nights could bring and they were doing all they could to ensure there would be one more night under the lights in this stadium and when Michail Antonio’s header beat visiting goalkeeper Matēj Kovář in the thirteenth minute, the majority went ballistic!!! You can only imagine what would happen were they to score again.

Jarrod Bowen linked up to good effect with Vladimír Coufal and the Czech defender found Antonio, who then towered above Odilon Kossounou and gave the visiting stopper no chance.

The hosts had at least found one goal and they had plenty of time to level the tie and perhaps go on and book a place in the semi-finals.

Xabi Alonso’s side just didn’t know what had hit them, as the Hammers kept the pressure up. Mohammed Kudus took advantage of some uncharacteristically poor play from the newly-crowned Bundesliga Champions and managed to fashion an opportunity. Unfortunately though, it didn’t produce the second goal, as it took a deflection which allowed Kovář to get hold of the ball.

The tie was everso nearly level when Bowen was on the end of a cross from Kudus but unfortunately for the winger, Kovář made a instinctive save with his feet.

Tensions were running high on and off the pitch. An incident involving Billy McKinlay and his opposite number Sebastián Parrilla saw referee José María Sánchez issue them both with red cards.

Shortly after, another Bowen cross set up Antonio who might have found the goal that all connected with the club were desperate for. However, it was unfortunately blocked and the chance quickly came and went.

Five minutes were added to the end of the first-half and during that allotted period, the Hammers’ boss was forced into a first change of the night. Aguerd had picked up an injury, meaning Angelo Ogbonna took his place.

The hosts were still in with a shout when the Spanish referee blew the whistle for the break.

West Ham needed to keep going but the opposing team had real strength on the bench. In an effort to change the tempo of the encounter, Alonso made a double change, as he introduced both Jeremie Frimpong and Victor Boniface for Patrik Schick and Tella.

West Ham survived a huge scare with just five second-half minutes played. Frimpong broke free of his marker and sent a cross in the direction of Florian Wirtz. Fortunately, Wirtz was unable to make the most of the chance and sent the ball over the bar.

With the momentum definitely shifting by this point, the hosts needed to rediscover some of their first-half dominance. Bowen did brilliantly to take possession from Piero Hincapié but he was then unable to find a teammate.

Alonso’s half-time actions were clearly paying dividends for the visitors with Fabiański now the busier of the two goalkeepers, as he expertly kept out an effort from Frimpong.

The home faithful were still seeing their side give everything but the elusive goal was still to be found. They were taking risks though, as they were leaving spaces for the visitors to exploit.

Minutes later, Moyes made a double change, bringing on Ben Johnson and Maxwel Cornet with both Coufal and Edson Álvarez being withdrawn.

Frimpong was really making an impression since his introduction and a great ball put him through on goal but Fabiański thwarted him as full-time edged closer.

There didn’t look as though there would be enough time left for Moyes’ men to level the scores but what they wanted to avoid was to give their opponents another goal to stretch the aggregate advantage. However, that is exactly what happened and Frimpong did eventually get his goal as the ball deflected off Cresswell’s back and past Fabiański to leave the home fans wondering what might have been.

Having been denied the chance to take part in a third successive European semi-final, the aim for the Hammers now is to cement a qualification place for next season. They can continue their push by taking three points from Selhurst Park when they face Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.