Hammers sweep aside KAA Gent to earn Europa Conference League Semi Final against AZ Alkmaar
Apologies again for taking so long to post the photos from this wonderful home win in the Quarter Final of the Europa League. Sadly, its been a busy time for the Marshes and I haven’t had time to settle down to my desk for the editing. I missed the Liverpool defeat as my wife was unwell and I was looking after her and the boys. I had to settle for radio commentary. After a nervy away draw in the first leg, the Hammers put on an exhilarating show in front of the home fans after going 1-0 behind to progress into a European Semi Final for the second year in a row with goals from Antonio (2), Paqueta and MOTM Rice.
It put a seal on a magnificent turn around from the 1-4 thumping suffered against Newcastle United at home on 5th April in the Premier League and showed the growing confidence in a team who earned a hard fought draw a few days before against Premier League title chasers Arsenal.
European nights have been a source of joy for fans at the London Stadium as this is now the second season we have progressed into an European Semi Final that leaves the Hammers a favourites to win in the final at the Fortuna Arena in Prague on 7th June against either Fiorentina or FC Basel.
It feels as if we are hitting some form at the tail end of a season where we are still entangled in a relegation battle, sitting only 5 points ahead of 18th placed Leicester City with 5 games left to play. And we are seeing some of our key players in Moyes weekly team set up now putting the ball in the back of the net.
After going 1-0 down on 26th minute with a well worked goal from Gent’s Hugo Cuypers that took full advantage of West Ham’s defensive errors. It was comical and almost mirror image of the defensive insecurity the Hammers suffered from at the weekend against Arsenal that left them with a 2-0 deficit within the opening 10mins. The crowd did not give up and continued to sing as the team gathered themselves up for the rest of the match that simply swept aside their opponents.
There was 11 minutes of agony as the Hammers sought to get back into the game and it came with a routine goal from Antonio from an excellent Bowen free kick. Parity restored, but this was not the end of the story for the Hammers faithful.
But it wasn’t until the second half when West Ham came back out and showed purpose and decisiveness to seal a well won victory that could give Rice the chance to join World Cup winner Bobby Moore and club legend Billy Bonds to lift a major title as captain and what we secure European football for a third season in a row.
Paqueta had the chance to atone for his earlier error that lead to Gent’s goal with a well taken penalty to take the Hammers ahead on the night and in goal difference. But the night must be remembered for a stunning Rice goal to put the game beyond the stuttering visitors. Rice picks up the ball with a typical tackle 10 yards in his own half, then drives forward looking for support. But with no one there he continues on a run towards the Gent goal and then delivers a fantastic shot beyond goalkeeper Davy Roef into the top corner.
The nights MOTM performance by Rice shows what he can offer, not just as a covering midfielder, to his team but as an England international. Rice is contracted to the Hammers until 2024, but it is clear he will be on the move this summer with Champions League in his sights and who could blame him? If we seal some silverware this season before Rice leaves, given the troubles on this season, we have to be happy with that and wish Rice all the best.
There is still lot to play for this season and although we have lost our last two games, performances have shown the team have finally found their mojo, lets hope this continues until the last kick of the season in Prague as we lift our first mayor trophy since 1980 fabulous FA Cup Final victory over Arsenal.
We can but only dream of bubbles flying high into the sky this season.