West Ham maintain perfect Europa League campaign with Genk victory
- Credit: PA
West Ham United's European dream continues after West Ham United made it a hat-trick of Group H wins with this victory over Genk that leaves them six points clear at the top of the table, at the halfway stage.
But despite the three-goal margin, the Hammers did not have it all their own way against the Belgian Cup holders, who had the lion’s share of the chances right up until first-half stoppage-time when Craig Dawson broke the deadlock against the run of play.
And then as the hour-mark approached a quick-fire, double-barrelled blast shot down the visitors as Issa Diop and Jarrod Bowen netted two goals in as many minutes to all but end this Europa League encounter.
Following Sunday’s superb Premier League victory at his former club Everton, David Moyes made six changes for Matchday Three having already accounted for fellow Group H contenders Dinamo Zagreb (2-0) and Rapid Vienna (2-0) in his side’s opening two ties.
Dawson, Diop, Alphonse Areola, Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko and Nikola Vlašić all received call-ups in place of Michail Antonio and substitutes Łukasz Fabiański, Pablo Fornals, Saïd Benrahma, Angelo Ogbonna plus Kurt Zouma, who were each joined on the bench by Academy graduate, Daniel Chesters.
Certainly, gritty Genk set out not to fail in the same manner as the Croatians and Austrians who had gone before them and Jhon Lucumi had wasted no time making his presence felt, following through on an angry Bowen inside the opening seconds.
And with ten minutes on the clock, Théo Bongonda silenced London Stadium with a close-range diving header that beat Areola but there was a let-off for West Ham, when pacy Junya Ito was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up.
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Minutes later, Areola was forced to race from his line to tackle Ito outside his area as the Hammers struggled to find the early momentum that had served them so well in their earlier European encounters.
Genk had won at Rapid in their opening match (1-0) before losing against Dinamo (0-3) last time around and, closer to home in their domestic Jupiler Pro-League, they also suffered a two-goal defeat against Charleroi on Sunday, which had prompted coach John van den Brom to make three changes as Lucumi, Angelo Preciado and Carlos Cuesta came into the fold.
As the midway point approached, it was the turn of six-foot, seven-inch Paul Onuachu to sound the alarm bells in the home defence but upon meeting Bongonda’s tempting left-wing cross, the Nigerian international’s eight-yard header sailed over Areola’s crossbar.
In reply, the Hammers finally threatened for the first-time, when Bowen’s corner eventually fell to Tomáš Souček but Maarten Vandevoordt parried the Czech’s powerful header to the relief of the bouncing Belgian fans bobbing up and down behind their ‘keeper’s goal.
It was a rare moment of English pressure in an opening half-hour that also saw Areola bravely dive into Onuachu’s studs at the expense of a corner after Dawson had been muscled out by the accelerating African as he made his way to the edge of the six-yard box with both pace and purpose.
Certainly, the towering Nigerian was proving a handful and when Gerardo Arteaga floated a left-wing centre into the danger-zone, Onuachu’s looping header bounced just an inch or so wide of the far post to the collective relief of everyone in Claret & Blue.
With top-scorer Antonio watching from the side-lines in readiness for Sunday’s visit of Tottenham Hotspur, Moyes had shuffled restlessly in his technical area watching his team lacking both invention and incision but, with just seconds of the opening 45 minutes remaining, the Scot would have sensed hope, when Bowen side-footed Aaron Cresswell’s low cross straight at Vandevoordt.
Then, as the first-half entered stoppage time, Cresswell whipped in a left-wing corner that arrived perfectly for Dawson who – in defiance of science – incredibly outjumped Onuachu to steer his header over Bryan Heynen on the goalline to somehow give West Ham an interval lead.
Just after the restart, Kristian Thorstvedt’s shot deflected kindly into Areola’s gloves before Yarmolenko sent a 20-yarder high into the dark Stratford skies but it would not be long until the Hammers released the handbrake to run Genk off the road with those two quick-fire goals.
On 57 minutes, Cresswell floated a left-wing free-kick to the edge of the six-yard box, where Diop jumped highest to send a header crashing in-off the bar.
And seconds later, the pressing Yarmolenko enabled Lanzini to send Bowen on a run that climaxed with the Hammers No.20 drilling a low 18-yarder through the clutches of Vandevoordt to give Moyes boys a three-goal lead that had looked so unlikely heading towards the interval.
With an eye on Sunday’s clash with Spurs, Declan Rice and Cresswell were then withdrawn as Ryan Fredericks and Mark Noble came on in what proved to be a flurry of substitutions that also saw 19-year-old Chesters make his Hammers debut.
By now, though, it was job done for West Ham and, with that comfortable six-point cushion, the table-topping Hammers can now look forward to the fourth-leg of their Europa League campaign when they head to Genk for the reverse fixture in a fortnight’s time.
HAMMERS: Areola, Johnson, Cresswell (Fredericks 66), Diop, Dawson, Rice (Noble 66), Souček, Bowen (Benrahma 82), Lanzini (Chesters 89), Vlasić (Fornals 82), Yarmolenko. Unused subs: Fabiański, Randolph, Zouma, Ogbonna, Masuaku, Ashby.
SMURFS: Vandevoordt, Preciado, Arteaga, Lucumi, Cuesta, (Sadick h/t), Thorstvedt (Toma 82), Hrošovsky, Heynen, Ito (Oyen 82), Bongonda (Trésor 72), Onuachu (Ugbo 72). Unused subs: Chambaere, Leysen, McKenzie, Geusens, Eiting, Paintsil, Németh.
Referee: Donatas Rumsas (Lithuania)