While West Ham might have been far from at their best on Thursday evening, the Hammers officially punched their Europa League knockout stage ticket as they snatched a late 1-0 victory against TSC in Serbia.
With David Moyes electing to make a string of changes here, the Premier League outfit struggled to find any kind of fluidity on either side of the half-time break.
However, it was Tomas Soucek who once again proved to be West Ham’s hero as the Czech Republic international popped up in the final few seconds and notched his fifth strike in as many appearances for club and country.
Knowing that a final Group A victory against Freiburg on December 14th would see them leap directly to the Round of 16, the Hammers would have been glad to avoid a potential European banana skin.
Although TSC might have frustrated Thursday’s guests for large spells in midweek, the Serbian outfit have certainly limped their way over the finish line and have collected just a single point from their five Group A showdowns this season.
On an evening when Moyes’ men officially guaranteed a European adventure for the New Year, we have taken a look at the key talking points.
West Ham punch their Europa League knockout stage ticket
Making real history last season as they were crowned Europa Conference League winners for a maiden time, West Ham were desperate to mount another record-breaking European run this time around.
Appearing to have found some much-needed stability on either side of November’s international break, Moyes’ side have now won five of their previous six appearances across all competitions.
While the Hammers might have failed to find any kind of fluidity in the final third prior to Soucek’s late winner, Moyes’ men will know that they now sit just 90 minutes away from officially clinching top spot in Group A.
Welcoming Freiburg to the London Stadium on December 14th for their final European appearance of the year, even a single point would be enough for West Ham to skyrocket their way to the Round of 16.
Showing some real mental resolve over the past month and finding a way to drag themselves over the finish line, Thursday’s guests will feel that they have a real platform to build on heading into a stacked winter schedule.
Soucek saves the day again
While summer recruits James Ward-Prowse and Edson Alvarez might have made an immediate impact since arriving at the London Stadium, it has been another midfield star that has been one of West Ham’s standout performers this season.
Although the Hammers might have been left heartbroken back in July as England international Declan Rice completed a blockbuster £105million move to Arsenal, Soucek has continued to shine since being handed a more advanced role.
Bagging a stellar last-gasp winner on Thursday evening and dragging Moyes’ men to a Europa League knockout stage ticket, the Czech Republic international is certainly enjoying a real free-scoring flurry.
Along with grabbing a pair of respective late winners against Nottingham Forest and Burnley on either side of November’s international break, the 28-year-old has now found the net in each of his previous five appearances for club and country.
Unable to call upon the attacking duo of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio here, the former Manchester United boss will be hugely excited to have Soucek firing on all cylinders.
TSC suffer last-gasp heartbreak on their big night
Although TSC might have opened their Europa League adventure back in September with the mood in their camp at a red-hot high, Zarko Lazetic’s side would have always known that they faced a major uphill battle.
Suffering late heartbreak here and only collecting a single point from any of their five Group A appearances this year, the Blues will also need a minor miracle in their bid to sneak a Europa Conference League ticket for the New Year.
While TSC might take plenty of positives away from a largely gritty performance on Thursday evening, Lazetic will have a mounting headache over his side’s extended issues on home soil.
In fact, their last-gasp 1-0 loss here means that the Backa Topola-based outfit have failed to win any of their last six straight home fixtures across all competitions – a run that stems all the way back to September 16th.
Likewise, mustering just a pair of wins from their last 14 appearances across all formats, TSC have the feel of a squad seeking some crucial stability.
TSC: Ilic, Cvetkovic, Antonic, Stojic, Calusic, Petrovic, Djakovac, Radin, Kuveljic, Cirkovic, Milovanovic
Subs: Sos, Vlalukin, Vulic, Pantovic
West Ham: Fabianski, Johnson, Mavropanos, Aguerd, Cresswell, Paqueta, Soucek, Ward-Prowse, Fornals, Mubama, Benrahma
Subs: Kehrer, Ings, Cornet, Emerson
Goals: Soucek (89’)
Yellow Cards: TSC: Calusic, Petrovic – West Ham: Fornals, Emerson
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Allard Lindhout
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