West Ham closed in on the Europa League knockout stages as two goals in two minutes helped them to a 3-0 win over Genk at the London Stadium.
Craig Dawson’s opener, scored with his shoulder from an Aaron Cresswell corner, lit up an otherwise gritty first half in which West Ham dominated territory but lacked an attacking focal point, with regular striker Michail Antonio given the night off.
Knowing a victory would leave them on the cusp of the knockout stages, West Ham were only occasionally troubled by their visitors, but nonetheless gave their lead more certainty after the break when two goals separated by just 72 seconds provided the knockout blow to the Belgians.
Issa Diop rose highest to crash another Cresswell delivery in off the underside of the bar and just 72 seconds later, Bowen robbed Kristian Thorstvedt on the wing before beating Maarten Vandevoordt inside the area.
Victory gives the Hammers the chance to qualify for the knockout stages with victory in the return leg of this fixture in Belgium on November 4, where three points will be enough to send them through.
West Ham: Areola (7), Johnson (7), Dawson (7), Diop (7), Cresswell (8), Soucek (7), Rice (7), Lanzini (6), Bowen (7), Yarmolenko (5), Vlasic (6).
Subs: Noble (6), Fredericks (5), Benrahma, Fornals, Chresters (n/a).
Genk:Vandevoordt (6), Preciado (5), Cuesta (5), Lucumi (6), Arteaga (4), Thostvedt (4), Hrosovsky (5), Heynen (5), Bongonda (6), Onuachu (5), Ito (7).
Subs: Sadick (5), Tresor (4), Ugbo (5), Oyen, Toma (n/a).
Man of the match:Aaron Cresswell
How West Ham closed in on the knockout stages
The Hammers have returned to Europe like a duck to water, but the London Stadium was noticeably emptier for the visit of Genk than for their last home European game with Rapid Vienna, and that apathy from the stands played out on the pitch in a largely lethargic opening period.
Antonio’s night off left West Ham with a stark lack of presence in the final third, and although they enjoyed plenty of first-half possession in good areas, they rarely looked likely to test Vandervoordt. Indeed, the best chance of the half fell to the towering figure of Paul Onuachu, who beat Alphonse Areola to a cross only to head wide beyond an unguarded net.
On the stroke of half-time, David Moyes was forced to rewrite his team talk as Dawson, who had already nodded over from a brilliant Cresswell cross, made amends from a corner to give the hosts the lead.
Genk never looked like recovering from that setback and were three goals behind before the hour mark, as Diop took advantage of some lax marking from another set-piece to power home another Cresswell delivery before Bowen robbed the lackadaisical Trhostvedt on the flank to put the game beyond doubt barely a minute later.
John van den Brom’s two attacking substitutions finally brought the Genk attack to life but were much too little too late, and although the Hammers were lucky that second-half arrivals Mike Tresor and Ike Ugbo both missed presentable opportunities, they were already too far out of sight to be too concerned.
The arrival of 19-year-old academy graduate Daniel Chesters for his West Ham debut put the cherry on another large cake for the hosts, who are enjoying their European tour and can ensure it continues into the knockout stages in a fortnight’s time.
What the manager said…
West Ham manager David Moyes: “It was tight in the first half. I thought we deserved to go in front but they had one or two half-chances as well. But getting the goals quite quickly was great for us and allowed us to make a few changes and relax a bit more.
“We don’t want to lose any goals. We had a couple of really good blocks late on and a few scary moments in the first half. We don’t want that to happen but the players deserve it. The goal just before half-time was important.
“We have to go to Genk and Vienna. This is the bit everyone is looking forward to, the away trips for the fans, the players and the families as well. From that point of view it’s still new, still fresh and we’re really enjoying it.”
- West Ham are only the second English side to win each of their first three group games in a single UEFA Europa League campaign without conceding, after Spurs in 2013-14. The last team from any nation to do so won the competition (Sevilla in 2019-20).
- Genk have lost all three of their away matches against English opponents in European competition, previously losing 0-5 against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League in 2011-12 and 1-2 against Liverpool in the same competition in 2019-20.
- West Ham have beaten Belgian opposition in European competition for the second time in their history, with the previously victory coming away to KAA Get in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964-65.
- No Premier League defender has scored more goals in all club competitions in 2021 than West Ham’s Craig Dawson (5 – level with John Stones).
- West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell has assisted eight goals from dead-ball situations in all competitions since the start of last season, the most of any Premier League player.
- West Ham’s second and third goals, courtesy of Issa Diop and Jarrod Bowen, were separated by only 72 seconds.
West Ham host Tottenham at the London Stadium live on Sky Sports Premier League on Sunday from 1pm; kick-off at 2pm.