West Ham made it four wins out of four to qualify for the Europa Conference League knockout stages with two games to spare as Jarrod Bowen starred in a 2-1 victory over Anderlecht amid crowd trouble at the London Stadium.
David Moyes has targeted finishing top of Group B to avoid needing to play in a two-legged play-off after Christmas, and goals from Said Benrahma (14) and Bowen (30) put his side in control against their Belgian opponents.
Sebastiano Esposito’s 89th-minute penalty set up a tense finale in a game which had already been ignited by unsavoury scenes involving both sets of supporters which could lead to UEFA action.
Moyes said afterwards: “The players’ job is to get on with it, and I thought they did. The more we look at it, we don’t want any trouble. We’re in a different society and a different world now and it’s not what any football club wants to have connected to them, and I certainly don’t want that at West Ham.”
The Hammers are yet to cement their position at the summit, however, with Silkeborg’s 5-0 away victory over Steaua Bucharest meaning they still require a point to be guaranteed of an automatic place in the last 16.
West Ham: Areola (6), Coufal (7), Johnson (6), Ogbonna (6), Cresswell (7), Lanzini (7), Downes (6), Emerson Palmieri (7), Lucas Paqueta (7), Bowen (8), Benrahma (8).
Subs: Scamacca (6), Fornals (7), Dawson (6), Soucek (n/a), Rice (6).
Anderlecht: Van Crombrugge (6), Debast (6), Delcroix (6), N’Diaye (7), Murillo (6), Arnstad (6), Diawara (5), Verschaeren (5), Amuzu (5), Silva (6), Esposito (6).
Subs: Hoedt (n/a), Vertonghen (6), Sadiki (6), Stroeykens (6), Stassin (n/a).
Player of the match: Jarrod Bowen.
Hammers move to brink of last-16 berth
West Ham now need just a point from their last two games, against Danish side Silkeborg and Romania’s Steaua Bucharest, to ensure they finish top of the group and move straight into the round of 16, avoiding a play-off in February.
“I’m really pleased we’ve qualified for the next stage as the big thing is to always be in Europe still after Christmas,” Moyes said.
West Ham team news
West Ham manager David Moyes rung the changes as only three players who started against Fulham kept their place in the side. Angelo Ogbonna, Ben Johnson and Vladimir Coufal all came into the defence while Alphonse Areola took his place in goal.
Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen retained their spots, but Gianluca Scamacca dropped to the bench as Said Benrahma and Flynn Downes were handed starts.
“The form of Silkeborg at the moment looks a problem given the goals they’re scoring so we still need a point to be winners of the group. Hopefully we can do that but winning tonight was important. We deserved to win, but we made it much harder for ourselves than it should’ve been.”
However, some of the gloss was taken off their achievement by crowd trouble which required riot police to intervene.
Anderlecht showed they can be dangerous opponents during the reverse fixture just seven days ago in Brussels when Gianluca Scamacca’s strike was enough to clinch a 1-0 win for West Ham at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium – but they fell behind cheaply inside quarter of an hour.
The visitors – who are 12 points adrift of leaders Genk in the Belgian Jupiler League – had been warned when Aaron Cresswell’s set-piece cleared the crossbar, but after another foul from Amadou Diawara on the edge of the box allowed Benrahma to pull rank, his right-foot free-kick from 25 yards out was perfectly executed into the bottom corner.
Angelo Ogbonna was again selected in a bid to build up his fitness following his lengthy lay-off – but the Italian was forced off midway through the opening period with a hamstring strain.
It temporarily dampened the mood, but home supporters were lifted from their seats on the half-hour mark when Bowen continued his rich vein of form to double West Ham’s lead.
The ball was worked well down the left by Manuel Lanzini and Emerson Palmieri, who found Bowen with time to take aim and rifle his shot beyond Hendrik Van Crombrugge.
It was Bowen’s third Europa Conference League goal of the campaign and fifth in total, and he might have helped himself to another before half-time when he failed to make contact with Cresswell’s cutback.
Anderlecht, whose boisterous fans lit five flares in the away end, one of which landed near the pitch, threatened to spoil the party when Yari Verschaeren drilled narrowly wide and Esposito forced a fingertip save from Alphonse Areola.
But it was largely plain sailing for the hosts and Pablo Fornals, on at the break for Lucas Paqueta, should have hit a third only to see his shot blocked by Diawara on the six-yard line.
Bowen was given a rest after an hour by Moyes with Scamacca sent on, and the Italian almost converted a cross from Fornals, while Benrahma put a header narrowly wide from Vladimir Coufal’s centre.
It should have been an ultimately comfortable night for West Ham, although the scenes in the stands were depressingly unpleasant.
A pitch invader briefly halted play before missiles were hurled between sets of rival fans, including another flare which landed in the home end.
While attentions were focused on the nonsense in the crowd, Anderlecht scored a consolation from the penalty spot through Esposito after a foul by Ben Johnson.
West Ham have qualified – and they will most likely do so as winners of the section given they are six points clear of Silkeborg, who they are at home to next, and they will be among the teams to beat when the competition resumes after Christmas.
Crowd trouble in pictures…
Ugly scenes in the final 10 minutes threatened to spill over as two lines of riot police ensured Anderlecht and West Ham supporters did not come to blows after chairs and flares were thrown from both sides of the divide.
Chairs were initially thrown from the Anderlecht end into the West Ham section, as riot police were forced to move in. As Esposito’s penalty hit the net, another few white chairs were hurled into the home end. Police waving batons ordered the Anderlecht fans back.
A flare was then launched from the home end into the away fans before it was swiftly hurled back.
Anderlecht boss Felice Mazzu said: “Seriously, I saw nothing so I cannot speak about this.”
The club’s press officer has said that Anderlecht “strongly condemn” the behaviour of their supporters and will work with UEFA to ensure action is taken.
Moyes said on the crowd trouble: “It’s good for the press officer to stand up for the club. It’s a big credit to them as they’re a really good football club. They want to protect their own club and rightly so.
“Everyone’s focus is taken away when there’s crowd trouble in some way. I didn’t have any interest in it as it’s one of those things you don’t want to talk about. I don’t want to draw any more attention to it.”
Moyes using Europe to build momentum again
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds at the London Stadium:
“West Ham reached the semi-finals of the Europa League last season and are now very well placed for another long European run. Winning is becoming a habit again.
“The group winners will advance to the last 16, while whoever finishes second will play an additional two matches in a play-off against one of the sides that come third in the Europa League.
“Moyes has mastered the art of using Thursday nights to get his Hammers squad up to speed and, following a sixth win in seven in all competitions, momentum is building in east London.
“The Scot isn’t taking any risks, removing Ogbonna in the first half as a precaution with a tight hamstring while Craig Dawson – his replacement – was substituted with a dead leg.
“Paqueta was taken off at half-time on a booking. There is now depth to this group and after a shaky start to the campaign, we are seeing the fruits of Moyes’ rotation in this competition.
“Benrahma buzzed around menacingly after his free-kick injected confidence into his play. When Paqueta was withdrawn, Pablo Fornals picked up the fight.
“On the flanks, Coufal and Emerson aren’t noticeable downgrades, Declan Rice wasn’t missed in midfield, Scamacca wasn’t needed but both were brought on to maintain standards during a second half that had drifted.
“Stiffer challenges lie ahead in Europe, of course, but with summer signing Nayef Aguerd returning from injury, all the signs are pointing towards another season of real substance on multiple fronts.”
Player of the match – Jarrod Bowen
Bowen was slow to get going this season, but it would appear that a snub from the England manager Gareth Southgate has awoken the beast.
Here, he was involved in everything that was good about West Ham, whose performance visibly dropped after his second-half departure. His goal was a typical Bowen finish. Emerson galloped down the left before pulling the ball back for Bowen to finish from 15 yards.
The goal made Bowen West Ham’s joint leading scorer in Europe with six, alongside Johnny Byrne and David Cross. He should have moved out on his own with seven moments later when Cresswell cut the ball back, but the England hopeful missed his kick in front of goal.
Still, there was plenty to suggest his World Cup credentials are alive and well.
Bowen told BT Sport: “I think there was a sense of control from us. The penalty late on made it nerve-wracking for the last five minutes but we hung in there. We created a lot of chances and we’ll take the victory, for sure.
“Especially when the full-backs go forward, I’m always looking to get into that position. The main thing was my first touch which set me up for the goal. I controlled it well and then it was about shifting it, hitting the target and hitting it with power.
“We want to go far in these European competitions and scoring goals helps that as well. I think people look at me differently now but I just want more of the same from last year. There’s different expectations but for me, I just want to be the same if not better than last year.”
On Bowen, Moyes added: “He’s getting much closer and he’s looking closer to exactly where he was last year. Every game, he’s looking like a threat. He scored a penalty in that run as well, so he’s starting to do a lot better.”
West Ham return to Premier League action on Sunday when they travel to St Mary’s to take on Southampton, with kick-off at 2pm.
The Hammers are then on the road again on Wednesday when they journey to Anfield for a clash with Liverpool, with kick-off at 7.30pm.