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West Ham 2 AZ Alkmaar 1: Hammers take slender lead to Holland as Antonio gives Moyes’ men unconvincing win

MAYBE this West Ham lot have learned their lessons?

Déjà vu seeped into the London Stadium like an unwanted guest at an East London house party after AZ Alkmaar – a team full of ballsy Dutch kids – opened the scoring.

Said Benrahma drew West Ham level from the spot
Richard Pelham / The Sun
Benrahma scored after ex-Arsenal and Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan fouled Jarrod Bowen in the box
Richard Pelham / The Sun
Michail Antonio then poked the Hammers in front

Tijjani Reijnders’ strike just before the break brought back unwelcome memories of last season’s Europa League semi-final heartbreak against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Back then, Frankfurt also took the lead at the London Stadium before fleeing back to Germany with a 2-1 win.

The rest is history you dare not repeat in these parts.

Dreams of a first European final since 1976 and a first piece of silverware for West Ham since 1980 were chewed up, spat out and trampled upon in the second leg.

It took boss David Moyes and his battered boys a while to get over it, only to be staring those fears square in the face yet again just over 12 months later.

Only this time, Moyes watched his gutsy side churn out a comeback that had all the hallmarks of a squad battle-hardened and experienced.

Alkmaar keeper Maty Ryan’s knock-out punch of Jarrod Bowen while coming for a cross gave Said Benrahma the chance to level from the spot in the 67th minute.

It will be no surprise that, with Eurovision around the corner, the shot-stopper from Australia should receive a ‘nil-point’ rollocking from his London-born boss Pascal Jansen.


And within a frenzied eight minutes, West Ham were ahead – Michail Antonio bundling home in the ugliest but most satisfying way possible.

Unlike last season, when they had to go to Frankfurt needing a result only to see red cards, accusations of corruption and balls kicked at ball-boys spoil their night, the return leg to Holland requires a far simpler approach – Do. Not. Lose.

Benrahma emphatically found the corner from the spot
Richard Pelham / The Sun
Antonio converts from close range to make it advantage West Ham going into next week’s return leg
Richard Pelham / The Sun

Do that, and a final in Prague is within their reach – just do not expect it to come easy.

Nothing ever does for this club, just ask their pained fanbase.

Moyes had played mind games in the build-up by suggesting the return of Kurt Zouma after a troublesome ankle injury would come too soon, but there he was in the heart of defence.

Other than Alphonse Areola taking his place as West Ham’s cup keeper ahead of No.1 Lukasz Fabianski, the side was unchanged from the weekend’s impressive 1-0 win over Manchester United.

Jansen was at the London Stadium for that one, but it appeared to have no impact on his young team’s approach – death by a thousand passes.

By the half hour mark, the visitors had racked up 63 per cent possession without seriously testing the palms of Areola.

West Ham meanwhile were enjoying the freedom to play like the away side early on.

Blistering and aggressive counter attacks down the wings were causing Alkmaar problems, but the first chance came about via a rare misplaced pass at the back.

Declan Rice’s looped cross was ballooned over by the head of Jarrod Bowen before the winger wasted another opportunity after Antonio drove from deep.

Benrahma appeared in better shooting fettle, almost finding the bottom corner with a curling effort that was superbly tipped past the post by Ryan.

The half was beginning to peter out until a moment of controversy gave Alkmaar their first opportunity to produce a counter of their own, finishing emphatically.

Lucas Paqueta crumpled to the floor following what looked like a clear push in the back by defender Sam Beukema.

In the sixteen seconds that followed, Alkmaar stormed down the left, cut inside and Reijnders could not believe how much space and time he had to pick his shot.

He did, with the help of some questionable keeping by Areola as the ball fizzed through the Frenchman’s gloves and into his bottom right corner.

Moyes paced his technical area with his arms spread in a rage.

Another dodgy VAR call, or lack of one, had gone against his boys yet again this season.

The sense of injustice spilled over into the second half.

Alkmaar were prepared to take timewasting to a new level whenever humanly possible.

That was until Ryan decided to take matters into his own hands, quite literally.

Paqueta’s cross was met by Tomas Soucek’s flick-on and Bowen took a smack for his troubles.

Benrahma celebrated his spot-kick by the corner flag as Moyes urged his players back to nick the winner.

They did just that in the 75th minute.

Nayef Aguerd’s header was cleared off the line from a messy corner and Antonio finished it off.

Work to be done, but advantage, for once, is Claret and Blue.

Tijjani Reijnders initially scored to put AZ Alkmaar ahead
Richard Pelham / The Sun

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