West Ham took four of their four wins to qualify for the knockout stage of the Europa Conference League with two games to go as Jarrod Bowen starred in a 2-1 win over Anderlecht amid trouble from the crowd in the London Stadium.
David Moyes has set himself the goal of finishing at the top of Group B to avoid having to play in a two-legged play-off after Christmas, and goals from Said Benrahma (14) and Bowen (30) put his side in control had against their Belgian opponents.
Sebastiano Esposito’s 89-minute penalty set off a tense final in a match that had already been ignited by unsavory scenes involving both groups of supporters, which could lead to action from UEFA.
The Hammers have yet to cement their position at the top, however, with Silkeborg’s 5-0 win over Steaua Bucharest meaning they still need a point to secure 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).
Subscribers: 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).
Subscribers: Hoedt (n/a), Vertonghen (6), Sadiki (6), Stroeykens (6), Stassin (n/a).
Player of the match: Jarrod Bowen.
How Hammers moved to the edge of the last 16 berth
West Ham now need just one point from their last two games, against Denmark’s Silkeborg and Romania’s Steaua Bucharest, to ensure they finish at the top of the group and go straight to the round of 16, leading them to a play-off in avoid February.
However, some of the brilliance was taken from their performance by crowd problems, forcing riot police to intervene.
Anderlecht showed seven days ago in Brussels that they can be dangerous opponents in the reverse game, when Gianluca Scamacca’s strike was enough to win West Ham 1-0 at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium – but they came within 15 minutes at a low cost.
West Ham team news
West Ham manager David Moyes pushed through the changes as only three players who started against Fulham kept their place on the side. Angelo Ogbonna, Ben Johnson and Vladimir Coufal all got on the defensive as Alphonse Areola took his place in goal.
Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen kept their spots, but Gianluca Scamacca slumped to the bench when Said Benrahma and Flynn Downes got starts.
The visitors – who are 12 points behind leaders Genk in the Belgian Jupiler League – were warned when Aaron Cresswell’s set-piece cleared the bar, but after another foul by Amadou Diawara on the edge of the penalty area, Benrahma was able to top the rankings. get, are A free kick with the right foot from 25 meters was executed perfectly in the bottom corner.
Angelo Ogbonna was re-selected in a bid to rebuild his fitness after his long hiatus – but the Italian was forced out midway through the opening period after receiving treatment to his left knee.
It temporarily dampened the mood, but the home fans were lifted from their seats on the half hour mark as Bowen continued his rich vein of form to double West Ham’s lead. The ball was worked well on the left by Manuel Lanzini and Emerson Palmieri, who found Bowen in time to aim and his shot past Hendrik Van Crombrugge.
It was Bowen’s third Europa Conference League goal of the campaign and fifth overall, and he might have helped himself before half-time when he couldn’t make contact with Cresswell’s cut.
Anderlecht, whose rowdy fans fired five flares at the end, one of which landed near the pitch, threatened to spoil the party when Yari Verschaeren narrowly missed and Esposito forced a fingertip save from Alphonse Areola.
But it was largely smooth sailing for the hosts and Pablo Fornals, who was at halftime for Lucas Paqueta, should have hit a third, but his shot was blocked by Diawara on the six-yard line.
Bowen was sent off with Scamacca by Moyes after an hour of rest, and the Italian almost converted a cross from Fornals, while Benrahma sent a header just wide of the center of Vladimir Coufal.
It should have been an extremely comfortable evening for West Ham, although the scenes in the stands were depressingly unpleasant.
A pitch invader put the game on hold for a moment before firing rockets between sets of rival fans, including another flare that landed in the home end.
While attention was focused on the nonsense in the crowd, Anderlecht scored a consolation from the penalty spot via Esposito after a foul by Ben Johnson.
West Ham have qualified – and they most likely will as section winners, as they are six points clear of Silkeborg, who they are next to, and they will be among the teams to beat when the league resumes after Christmas .
Crowd problem in photos…
Ugly scenes in the last 10 minutes seemed to be skipping as two lines of riot police prevented Anderlecht and West Ham supporters from brawling after chairs and torches were thrown from both sides of the gorge…
Moyes uses Europe to rebuild momentum
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds at 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.
“The group winners advance to the last 16, while the second-place finisher will play two more games in a play-off against one of the teams that finish third in the Europa League.
“Moyes has mastered the art of using Thursday night to get his Hammers side up to speed and after a sixth win out of seven in all competitions, momentum is building in East London.
“The Scot is not taking any chances by removing Ogbonna as a precaution in the first half, while Paqueta was eliminated on a booking at half time. There is now depth in this group and after a shaky start to the campaign, we are seeing the fruits of Moyes’ rotation in this league.
“Benrahma buzzed around menacingly after his free kick put confidence in his game. When Paqueta was withdrawn, Pablo Fornals took the fight.
“On the flanks. Vladimir Coufal and Emerson are no noticeable downgrades, Declan Rice was not missed in midfield, Scamacca was not needed, but both were brought in to maintain the standard during a second half that had drifted.
“Of course there are bigger challenges ahead in Europe, but with the summer Nayef Aguerd returning from injury, all signs point to a new season of real content on multiple fronts.”
West Ham return to Premier League action on Sunday when they travel to St Mary’s to record it Southamptonwith kick-off at 2 p.m.
The Hammers then hit the road again on Wednesday when they travel to Anfield to face off with Liverpoolwith kick-off at 7.30pm.