Late strikes secures 3-1 win for Hammers v Baggies to put east Londoners a point from Europa League
By Alessandro Schiavone at The Hawthorns
West Ham moved up to sixth in the Premier League table after coming from behind to inflict a 3-1 defeat on West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns thanks to late goals from Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Ogbonna. The Hammers now only need one point against Southampton on Sunday to be mathematically assured of a berth in next season’s Europa League. However, tonight’s win was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests with the encounter in the balance until the 82th minute. And just when the game was hurtling towards a 1-1 draw, Angelo Ogbonna rose to glance home a header from Aaron Cresswell’s cross before Michail Antonio sealed a win with a superb finish at the death. In a pulsating first-half West Ham could have got off to a dream start inside two minutes but folk hero Declan Rice smashed his penalty against the post after Sam Johnstone had brought Michail Antonio down in the box. It appeared as if Tottenham’s 2-1 shock defeat against Aston Villa gave the Hammers extra incentive to try and get the job done as quickly as possible. But boosted by the penalty miss and roared on by the return of their home fans, West Bromwich increased their intensity and stepped up their game, creating a lot of havoc between the lines and on the flanks thanks to Matheus Pereira’s flair and Hal Robson-Kanu’s decent hold-up play which opened up spaces for the Brazilian, Conor Gallagher and the full-backs. In fact, after emerging unscathed from Rice’s penalty, the Baggies took control of the game. And they came within a whisker of taking the lead through Pereira who had his flicked header saved by deputy goalkeeper Darren Randolph before he dragged another effort wide after 22 minutes. The West Brom faithful must have licked their lips at the thought of watching Pereira play at the Hawthorns for the first time in the Premier League after he had played a pivotal role in guiding them to promotion last term. And their excitement was justified as he made things happen. Every time the ball was glued at his feet the home supporters were holding their breath. But his end product is a different story as it left a lot to be desired. After coming close on a couple of occasions, the Baggies finally clicked into gear in the final third and were rewarded for their relentless pressure when Pereira swung in a corner at the near post which took a deflection off Soucek’s head and left Randolph stranded to burst West Ham’s bubble. Apart from Said Benrahma, who had a shot tipped over the crossbar by Sam Johnstone in the early stages of the game, West Ham struggled to fashion clear-cut opportunities in the first 35 minutes as the hosts commanded their area with great authority. In the 35th minute Pereira forced Randolph into an excellent one-handed save. West Ham’s Craig Dawson played against his old club tonight and was jeered and booed by the home supporters every time he had the ball. But unfazed by it, the experienced centre-back kept the Hammers in the game when he blocked Robson Kanu’s effort. It was a vital intervention as it would in all likelihood have increased the Baggies’ lead with Randolph beaten. With a few minutes to go to the break, Lingard came close to levelling it up after cutting in on his right foot but his attempt was deflected wide. On the stroke of half-time West Ham got the goal that changed the complexion of the game. Benrahma squared for Soucek who ghosted in at the far post to tap into a gaping net. It set the tone for the second period. Eleven minutes into the second-half Randolph was sensational when he denied Semi Ajayi to prod home West Brom’s second second from range. In the 62nd minute Czech international Soucek rose unchallenged at the near post to flick a header across the face of goal but Antonio was unable to apply the all-important finishing touch. Minutes later, Aaron Cresswell almost caught Johnstone out with a terrific free-kick which hit the outside of the post In the 68th minute the adventurous yet profligate Pereira dragged another shot wide after Robson-Kanu had laid off to him with his back to goal. With 14 minutes to go, Rice did what he does best and excels at, winning the ball back in midfield and breaking forward to pick out Pablo Fornals. But the Spaniard fluffed his lines, directing a tame effort into the hands of Johnstone. The England international then pulled off a magnificent save with his feet to deny him again minutes later. In the 82nd minute Ogbonna scored the goal that will probably go down in West Ham folklore as the strike that secured Europa League football. Just like Winston Reid’s last-ever goal at Upton Park five years ago, they will talk about the Italian’s header for years to come. Ogbonna rose majestically to glance home a header from Cresswell’s corner in the 82nd minute before Antonio, teed up by Lingard, settled the argument six minutes later. Losing against the club that ruthlessly relieved him of his duties in 2015 after suffering relegation is that last thing the departing Allarydce wanted before moving on next week. But West Ham could not care less. Their own win in the West Midlands coupled with Tottenham’s embarrassing home defeat against Aston Villa in north London means that the Hammers are only one point away from qualifying for the Europa League. And that, after avoiding relegation by the skin of their collective season only nine months ago.
If West Ham get the job done against Southampton on Sunday, this will be a story the young West Ham supporters will tell their grandchildren one day, just like they themselves have grown up listening to tales about Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking.
West Bromwich Albion 4-4-1-1 1 Sam Johnstone- 2 Darnell Furlong- 6 Semi Ajayi- 5 Kyle Bartley- 14 Conor Townsend- 10 Matt Phillips- 18 Conor Gallagher- 35 Okay Yokuslu- 30 Ainsley Maitland-Niles- 12 Matheus Pereira- 4 Hal Robson-Kanu West Ham United 4-2-3-1 1 Lukasz Fabianski- 5 Vladimir Coufal- 15 Craig Dawson- 21 Angelo Ogbonna- 3 Aaron Cresswell- 41 Declan Rice- 28 Tomas Soucek- 18 Pablo Fornals- 9 Said Benrahma- 11 Jesse Lingard- 30 Michail Antonio