Backa Topola 0-1 West Ham: Hammers progress from group stage
Backa Topola 0-1 West Ham: Hammers progress from the Europa League group stage after Tomas Soucek’s 89th-minute winner in Serbia
- West Ham secured progression from the group stage with a late winner in Serbia
- Tomas Soucek netted his seventh goal of the season in the 89th minute of the tie
- Raphael Varane row is undermining United boss Erik ten Hag – It’s All Kicking Off
It took planes, trains and automobiles for West Ham’s fans to get to Backa Topola and for their sake, you hoped for 90 minutes as entertaining as that Steve Martin and John Candy flick.
Those devoted enough to embark on the winding journey were made to wait until the final few seconds for excitement and yet again, it came courtesy of the Tomas Soucek late show.
Soucek scored to defeat the Serbian minnows, just as he did against Nottingham Forest and Burnley in West Ham’s last two outings. It ensured David Moyes’ men will stay top of the Europa League’s Group A ahead of a showdown with Freiburg in two weeks’ time.
Already guaranteed a top-two finish, West Ham will only need to avoid defeat in that final group game to reach the round of 16 and avoid adding a two-legged play-off to their packed schedule.
Since Divin Mubama’s last senior start for West Ham – against FCSB in Bucharest, Romania, a year ago – he had scored 31 goals in 29 games for the club’s youth sides. With Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio having not travelled, Mubama started ahead of Danny Ings.
Tomas Soucek’s seventh goal of the season secured three points for the Hammers in a game in which they toiled for long periods
West Ham will only need to avoid defeat in their final group game to reach the round of 16
Divin Mubama started in place of Danny Ings with the Hammers without Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio due to injury
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That was what the 300 in the away end at the 4,500-capacity TSC Arena wanted – a chance to see if their 19-year-old academy starlet is as divine by nature as Divin by name.
Yet Mubama was feeding on scraps when the first serious chance went to the Serbians in the seventh minute when Uros Milovanovic forced Lukasz Fabianski into a diving save.
Elsewhere, Freiburg were 2-0 up against Olympiacos within eight minutes, meaning West Ham had dropped down to second in Group A. While Freiburg were storming to a 4-0 half-time lead, Aaron Cresswell was sloppily gifting the ball to Aleksandar Cirkovic, who forced Fabianski into another save as Backa Topola looked the likelier to score first.
Goalless at the break, we had seen West Ham’s most uninspiring half of football in Europe under Moyes. James Ward-Prowse may be the Premier League’s set-piece nonpareil but he had not yet perfected his deliveries here, with his balls into the box hardly troubling the opposition.
Aleksandar Cirkovic (blue) had the home side’s best chance when he was presented with the ball from a wayward Aaron Cresswell pass
Maxwel Cornet was instrumental in West Ham finding the breakthrough in the 89th minute as he crossed for Soucek, who volleyed in from six yards.
Moyes ditched his woolly hat for the second half, no doubt warm enough after a heated half-time discussion in the dressing room.
West Ham made seven changes for this trip but knew they had more than enough talent to win here. After Fabianski was needed again to deny Milovanovic, Mubama and Said Benrahma were replaced by Ings and Maxwel Cornet for the closing stages.
Cornet was instrumental in West Ham finding the breakthrough in the 89th minute as he crossed for Soucek, who volleyed in from six yards. It was Soucek’s fifth goal in five games for club and country, and his third winner for West Ham in succession, as he span in circles in celebration.
West Ham’s travelling fans sang I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, yet again grateful to Soucek for being in the right place at the right time.
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