Antonio at the double as Hammers cruise
IF ONLY the Premier League came as easy to West Ham as the Europa Conference League. David Moyes’ men made it nine wins from nine in the competition and will target a perfect 10 in next week’s last-16 second leg.
Michail Antonio’s two goals were enough to defeat the Cypriot side located along the coast from Ayia Napa.
A few West Ham fans may leave that party town with headaches, but not the players, nor the manager, after this controlled performance.
Moyes selected a strong line-up, resisting the urge to rest Declan Rice. The captain was among several regulars to start.
The Premier League remains Moyes’ priority — his ‘bread and butter’ as he calls it — and Aston Villa visit on Sunday. It does no harm to warm up with a win, although Villa will provide a far tougher test than this. ‘We’re thrilled,’ said Moyes. ‘It’s a good job done when you’re disappointed with your performance but thrilled with the result.’
West Ham opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Said Benrahma crossed and Antonio, unmarked after drifting between Larnaca defenders, headed beyond Kenan Piric.
In first-half stoppage time, Rice fizzed a pass into Antonio and as the home defenders stood off, his right-foot, 20-yard curler landed in the top corner.
The frame of the goal denied Antonio a treble. ‘I was so close to the perfect hat-trick!’ he said. ‘I was like “arrrgh” when it hit the post. I was devastated!’ Maxwel Cornet was introduced for his first appearance since October and his terrific throughball left Lucas Paqueta one-onone with Piric, but the Brazilian could not find a finish.
Jose Mourinho’s Roma won this competition last season. Moyes believes this can be West Ham’s year and it is certainly providing them some respite from their Premier League woes.
WEST HAM (4-2-3-1): Areola 6; Kehrer 6, Aguerd 6, Zouma 6, Cresswell 6; Rice 7 (Soucek 60min, 6), Downes 7; Fornals 6 (Cornet 83), Lanzini 6 (Paqueta 77), Benrahma 7.5 (Bowen 60, 6.5); ANTONIO 8 (Scamacca 60, 6). Scorer: Antonio 36, 45+1. Booked: Kehrer, Downes. Manager: David Moyes 7.