West Ham United clinched their spot in the Europa League knockout stage with another nail-biting late victory, courtesy of Tomas Soucek’s heroics against Serbian opponents Backa Topola.
Displaying a rather lackluster performance initially, the Hammers struggled, managing just one shot on target until Soucek connected with Maxwel Cornet’s delivery, netting his fifth goal in as many matches for both club and country.
The remarkable feat continues as Soucek notched his third consecutive winning goal for West Ham, all struck beyond the 88th minute mark, setting an unprecedented record for himself in the process.
“Even playing Freiburg in the last game to win the group is hugely important. But I’d have taken this at the start of the season. If you’d said we’ll finish second I’d have taken that,” expressed a pleased David Moyes, West Ham’s manager.
The decisive goal by Soucek extends West Ham’s streak to scoring in 20 consecutive European fixtures, boasting an impressive record of 18 victories, having faced defeat only once.
With their current standing at the summit of Group A, West Ham requires just a single point against Freiburg on December 14 to secure the top spot, thus avoiding a February play-off against a third-placed finisher from the Champions League groups.
The match against Backa Topola, despite ending triumphantly, won’t be etched among the legendary European nights for the Hammers. Moyes’ seven alterations from their Premier League victory over Burnley might have contributed to the sluggish and unimpressive performance.
Concerns arise for Moyes regarding the squad’s depth as injuries sideline pivotal players Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio. The need for greater contributions from other senior squad members becomes evident, especially with Said Benrahma having the only shot on target before Soucek’s strike.
Danny Ings, making his presence felt off the bench, remains amidst a goal drought, extending to 24 games, while Maxwel Cornet’s game-changing introduction as a substitute, culminating in a sublime assist, offers hope for his role at West Ham.
Moyes, amid the team’s progression in European football for the third consecutive season, faces questions about the squad’s capabilities and alternatives available.
“We made a few changes, some with illness, we were always going to try some other players tonight to give them game time,” Moyes acknowledged while reflecting on the necessity of the alterations made in the lineup.
The victory against Backa Topola mirrors West Ham’s recent habit of clinching games in the dying minutes, a pattern Moyes sees as occasionally beneficial for a manager, emphasizing the value of late victories.
As West Ham continues their campaign, navigating through a rigorous sequence of 10 matches across three competitions by year-end, the spotlight remains on their resilience, adaptability, and the need for the broader squad to step up amid challenges.