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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at the London Stadium

Hammers book their place in the Europa Conference knock-outs after easing past Anderlecht

Europa Conference League MD4

West Ham (2) 2 Benrahma 14, Bowen 30

Anderlecht (0) 1 Esposito pen89

The Hammers cruised into the new year Conference League knockouts with two games to spare as they held off a late rally from Anderlecht.

An early free-kick from Said Benrahma and fine finish high into the net from the edge of the area by Jarrod Bowen made the win look nailed on with only half an hour played.

The Hammers ought to have been way out of sight by the time they let in a goal at the death from the penalty spot when Ben Johnson was penalised for a challenge. Sebastiano Esposito rolled the ball home. But the Hammers survived the six minutes of injury time without further calamity.

That’s four wins in four for the Irons in a group which has hardly forced them into a sweat. But it least it has given them an opportunity to find some form after a frankly indifferent start to the Premier League campaign.

David Moyes was probably right to calculate – based on last week’s victory in Brussels – that the time was right to rest players against the team currently sitting ninth in the Belgian First Division.

Anderlecht’s name may have resonance historically, but these days they find themselves trailing the likes of Union Saint-Galloise, Westerlo, and Oud-Heverlee of Leuven in the domestic table.

If you can’t rest Declan Rice for games like this, when can you? He started on the bench alongside the in-form Gianluca Scamacca, as well as Tomas Soucek and Fablo Fornals, although all four appeared in the second half – perhaps as a warm up for Southampton away at the weekend.

It seemed excessively cautious of David Moyes to bring them on to close out the win and in any case they did not prevent the visitors from causing a late scare.

The Belgian club, who twice contested European finals against English clubs, can still boast a great following and the noisy, purple-scarved away fans were determined not to let the seeming inevitability of defeat deflate them.

They fashioned one or two tidy moves, with Fabio Silva – on loan from Wolves – twice getting into decent shooting positions. But they frequently coughed up possession, inviting trouble, and they were pretty feeble in the final third.

The only real downside of the night came in the shape of injuries to Angelo Ogbonna and Craig Dawson, the man who replaced him. Both had to leave the field early.

Off the field, there was some trouble towards the end of the match in the lower section dividing Anderlecht fans from home support – two lines of stewards trying to keep the peace came under stress as objects were thrown from some visitors who appeared intent on confrontation.

It was all a bit 1980s, which is where the Belgians must yearn to be once more.

Hammers: (4-3-3) Areola – Coufal, Johnson, Ogbonna (Dawson 22) (Soucek 75), Cresswell (Rice 63) – Lanzini, Downes, Emerson – Paqueta Fornals h/t), Bowen (Scamacca 64), Benrahma

Anderlecht: (3-5-2) Van Crombugge – Debast, Delcroi Hoedt 79)x, Ndiaye – Murillo, Arnstad, Diawara (Sadiki 59), Verschaeren (vertonghen 66), Amuzu (Stroeykens 66) – Fabio Silva Stassin 79), Esposito


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