West Ham crash out of Europa League after Bayer Leverkusen draw

By Sports Desk April 18, 2024

West Ham bowed out of the Europa League but only after giving new German champions Bayer Leverkusen an almighty fright.

Michail Antonio’s early goal had the Hammers, 2-0 down from the first leg, dreaming of inflicting a first defeat of the season on Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen and of maybe reaching a third European semi-final in three years.

But they were unable to find a second and were then left crastfallen when a deflected goal from Jeremie Frimpong a minute from time made it 1-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate to end the Hammers’ hopes.

Few gave David Moyes’ side any chance of overturning the deficit against one of the best teams in Europe, even if they were a little jaded after celebrating their first Bundesliga crown on Sunday.

At the very least West Ham knew they needed a fast start, and both the team and the crowd were instantly unrecognisable from the meek 2-0 home defeat by Fulham four days earlier.

The first shot in anger did come from Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz, whose 20-yard effort was acrobatically saved by Hammers keeper Lukasz Fabianksi despite it being his 39th birthday.

But the first goal was always going to have to come from West Ham if they were going to make anything resembling a contest out of it, and it arrived in the 14th minute when Jarrod Bowen swung a cross into the box.

Antonio got above Leverkusen centre-half Odilon Kossounou and in front of keeper Matej Kovar to guide his header into the net as a raucous home crowd genuinely started to believe something special could be in the air.

It was almost two four minutes later when Mohammed Kudus shook off the attentions of Kossounou and hit a deflected shot which Kovar did well to smother.

It was enough to rattle Alonso, who removed Kossounou from the firing line with less than half an hour gone, the Ivory Coast defender heading straight down the tunnel.

Tempers flared between the benches moments later with the Hammers’ mild-mannered first-team coach Billy McKinlay sent off along with Sebastian Parrilla from Leverkusen’s bench.

Still West Ham attacked and Edson Avarez’s shot looked goalbound until it hit Antonio’s backside, with Kovar holding Bowen’s follow-up.

Alonso made two further changes at the break, with big guns Victor Boniface and Frimpong called into action.

After the break Bowen, still a lively presence despite only passing a late fitness test, robbed Piero Hincapie in the area only to pull his shot across goal.

But Leverkusen were finding their rhythm. Frimpong should have wrapped up the tie with 10 minutes left when he raced through one-on-one with Fabianski, only to lift his shot way over the crossbar.

But with two minutes left Frimpong did strike, his shot taking a huge deflection off Aaron Cresswell to end West Ham’s European adventure.

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