A fine first-half double from Michail Antonio gave West Ham a 2-0 win at AEK Larnaca in their Europa Conference League last-16 first leg.
The forward was straight back into the side after a hamstring injury, although did go off after appearing to strain his calf on the hour.
However, Antonio played down any talk of another spell out, telling BT Sport after the game: “Hamstrings are good, my calf is good. I got a couple of kicks today and I think it just tightened up. I think I’ll be alright.”
The forward certainly made his mark, nodding home superbly in the 36th minute before a stunning, curling effort (45+1) doubled the Hammers’ lead – his first brace in 19 months. He could have made it the perfect hat-trick shortly after the break too, but saw his left-footed shot clatter the post.
However, he had already seen West Ham into a commanding position ahead of next Thursday’s second leg at the London Stadium.
Larnaca, who have never reached the last 16 of any European competition, certainly tested West Ham at the start and end of the game. They racked up 14 corners – West Ham had zero – but the Hammers’ quality shone through at both ends of the pitch.
How West Ham beat Larnaca in the first leg
It took West Ham a while to get going as Larnaca began well. In the 18th minute, Marin Jakolis was fed down the left wing, dragging Thilo Kehrer and Nayef Aguerd towards him, but his cross was seen behind by Declan Rice. From the third successive corner of that spell, Nikos Englezou nodded just over.
But once West Ham found their quality, it was only a matter of time before the goals came. In the 31st minute, Manuel Lanzini sent his shot just wide after some good work from Antonio and Pablo Fornals. Seconds later, Said Benrahma’s shot was saved at the near post by Kenan Piric.
But it was an injury stoppage for Englezou just after that allowed David Moyes to chat to his squad – particularly Antonio – and the opening goal came from the striker just four minutes later.
- David Moyes made seven changes from the weekend defeat to Brighton.
- Only Alphonse Areola, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice and Said Benrahma kept their places, with Michail Antonio and Thilo Kehrer both fit enough to start.
- Angelo Ogbonna and Maxwell Cornet were both fit enough for a spot on the bench.
Benrahma did superbly well to leave two Larnaca defenders in his wake as he dropped a shoulder, with his floated cross nodded home emphatically by an unmarked Antonio.
In the first minute of three added on, a stunning finish gave West Ham their second. Rice drove through midfield before finding Antonio, who had all the space to turn and strike, sending a curling shot around Nenad Tomovic and into the back of the net.
Antonio could have completed the perfect hat-trick three minutes after the break. Lanzini and Benrahma linked up well down the left, with the latter feeding his team-mate with a lovely curled pass, but Antonio sent his left-footed shot onto the far post.
Larnaca ended the game much how they started – plenty of set-plays and tests for the West Ham defence. Substitutes Ivan Trickovski and Imad Faraj both drew saves from Alphonse Areola, but were unable to make their way past the goalkeeper.
But ultimately, the Hammers saw out the first leg victory comfortably, taking a commanding position back to the London Stadium next Thursday.
Moyes: Thrilled with result – but we didn’t play well
West Ham manager David Moyes to BT Sport:
“We didn’t play particularly well, but it’s a good job done when you’re disappointed with your performance. But thrilled with the result winning 2-0 away from home.
“I was disappointed with our overall play. I don’t think we played particularly well at all tonight. But getting two goals was really important for us, we haven’t been doing that regularly, but we could have had another few as well. That was another part of the disappointment, but overall, really pleased that we got the result.
“If we can be in the quarter-final of a European competition two years in a row, it’ll be something very good. I hope we’re talking about semi-finals and finals this year, but first we’ve got to try and make the quarter-final.”
When asked if making three changes in the 60th minute was with the weekend’s game with Aston Villa in mind: “Of course it was, but also, I wouldn’t have made the changes if I didn’t think we were relatively comfortable in the game. We got ourselves in a really good position.”
Antonio: I was so close to perfect hat-trick!
West Ham goalscorer Michail Antonio to BT Sport:
“We set out to get the win, get a good gap between us so when we go home next week, it’s not easier, but at least we’re ahead.
“I was so close to the perfect hat-trick! When it hit the post, I was devastated. But getting two goals, I’m buzzing. Hopefully next week, I can get some more.
“One thing in football is there’s always going to be competition, someone trying to get your shirt. Today, I managed to come out and score some goals. It’s whether I get the opportunity at the weekend.
“We’re more comfortable, but in football, anything can happen. Us being at home with our fans, I feel it could be easier and hopefully another win.”
West Ham host Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday; kick-off 2pm. The return leg against AEK Larnaca is next Thursday at the London Stadium; kick-off 8pm.