Backa Topola 0-1 West Ham: Hammers progress from the Europa League group stage after Tomas Soucek's 89th-minute winner in Serbia
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Backa Topola 0-1 West Ham: Hammers progress from the Europa League group stage after Tomas Soucek's 89th-minute winner in Serbia

Jan 2, 2024
  • 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 very end for an eruption of excitement but once it finally arrived, it was no surprise it came courtesy of Tomas Soucek.

Soucek scored to defeat the Serbian minnows, following up on his late winners against Nottingham Forest and Burnley in West Ham’s last two games. 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 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.

‘Tomas is in great form,’ Moyes said. ‘His first season, he scored 10 goals. He’s up to seven now. He has a chance of reaching that. I would’ve taken this (position) at the start of the season. We’re going to have to play well against Freiburg.’

Tomas Soucek's seventh goal of the season secured three points for the Hammers in a game in which they toiled for long periods

Tomas Soucek’s seventh goal of the season secured three points for the Hammers in a game in which they toiled for long periods

Divin Mubama started in place of Danny Ings with the Hammers without Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio due to injury

Divin Mubama started in place of Danny Ings with the Hammers without Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio due to injury

Any supporters concerned about Soucek’s expiring contract need not fret. Mail Sport can confirm he signed a new four-year extension in August. It was simply never announced by the Premier League club, perhaps an indication of his status as an unsung hero.

Before this turned into another Soucek late show, Moyes named Divin Mubama up front with Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio having not travelled. 

That was what the 320 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 fed on scraps throughout as Backa Topola created the better chances. Lukasz Fabianski was needed to deny Uros Milovanovic and then Aleksandar Cirkovic, who had been gifted an opportunity to score by Aaron Cresswell’s sloppy pass.

Aleksandar Cirkovic (blue) had the home side's best chance when he was presented with the ball from a wayward Aaron Cresswell pass

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.

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.

West Ham will only need to avoid defeat in their final group game to reach the round of 16

West Ham will only need to avoid defeat in their final group game to reach the round of 16

MATCH FACTS & PLAYER RATINGS

West Ham (4-2-3-1): Fabianski 6.5; Johnson 6 (Kehrer 79), Mavropanos 6, Aguerd 6, Cresswell 5.5 (Emerson 79); Soucek 7.5, Ward-Prowse 6; Fornals 5.5, Paqueta 6, Benrahma 5.5 (Cornet 67, 7); Mubama 6 (Ings 67, 6)

Subs (not used): Zouma, Ogbonna, Areola, Coventry, Anang, Chesters, Scarles, Orford

Scorers: Soucek (89)

Booked: Fornals

Manager: David Moyes 6

Referee: Allard Lindhout 6

Elsewhere, Freiburg were storming to a 4-0 half-time lead over Olympiacos, meaning they had moved top of Group A.

Goalless at the break, this had been 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 even his deliveries were not having the desired effect.

Moyes ditched his woolly hat for the second half, no doubt warm enough after a heated half-time discussion in the away dressing room.

After Fabianski was needed again to deny Milovanovic, Mubama and Said Benrahma were replaced by Danny 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 in succession for West Ham, as he spun in circles in celebration.

The travelling fans sang I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles as they departed for their hellish journey home, yet again grateful for Soucek as West Ham remain in control of their Europa League destiny.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.


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