West Ham’s dreams of a first major trophy since 1980 still live on as they came from behind to claim a narrow Europa Conference League semi-final first leg win over Dutch side AZ Alkmaar at the London stadium.
The Hammers’ hopes of reaching the final in Prague on June 7 were hanging by a thread when Alphonse Areola missed Tijjani Reijnders’ low shot four minutes before the break.
But in front of cheering home support, David Moyes’ side turned things around after half-time.
They had former Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan to thank for offering them a way back into the competition when he recklessly punched Jarrod Bowen in the face as he came late to challenge a high ball that the English man was actually leading.
After Ryan took an age to take his position for the penalty, Said Benrahma beat him with a powerful shot in the corner.
And 15 minutes from time, Michail Antonio struck the winner from close range, stabbing the loose ball after Nayef Aguerd’s initial header was blocked by Yukinari Sugawara on the line.
West Ham won’t take anything for granted given AZ were twice past the first leg of their quarter-final with Anderlecht and still managed.
However, the hosts carried the biggest threat and would have taken a better grip on the draw had Benrahma found the target rather than blazing after being set up by Danny Ings.
Benrahma shines for reborn hammers
Benrahma has frustrated Moyes at times this season.
Signed from Brentford in 2020 in a deal worth up to £30million, Benrahma has never quite reached the heights that many believe he is consistently capable of.
Moyes pushed the Algerian to improve his end product, believing this holds the key to unlocking a real attacking threat.
And at the London Stadium on Thursday, Benrahma delivered.
If Ryan hadn’t had his fingertip on the striker’s opening shot as he leaned towards the far post, West Ham would have had an early lead.
Benrahma unsettled AZ with his direct run in a period when the home side seemed to have gone astray, then refused to be distracted by visitors’ complaints and Ryan’s game-playing skills to find the net with a penalty crucial who breathed new life into West Ham’s efforts. .
With Antonio regaining his form and Bowen a threat, West Ham appear to be a different side to those who have struggled all season.
Behind the offensive talent, there is Declan Rice. It wasn’t one of the skipper’s most eye-catching nights, but his determination to follow Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds as West Ham captains who lifted the silverware is clear.
He covered so much ground to keep AZ out. No matter what the future holds, no one could accuse the Englishman of not giving his all to the Hammers cause.