West Ham hopeful over Michail Antonio injury boost for AZ Alkmaar semi-final decider
West Ham are hopeful of having Michail Antonio fit for Thursday’s European showdown with AZ Alkmaar, despite the forward missing Sunday’s defeat at Brentford with a calf problem.
The Hammers travel to the Netherlands for the second leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final leading 2-1 after last week’s victory at the London Stadium.
Antonio’s finish completed a comeback from 1-0 down in that game, but the Jamaican limped down the tunnel at full-time and was left out of the squad for Sunday’s 2-0 loss at the Gtech Community Stadium.
It is understood, however, that the 33-year-old’s absence was precautionary, with all eyes clearly on Thursday night as manager David Moyes made nine changes to his starting XI for a London derby.
Antonio is West Ham’s top scorer in the Conference League this term with six goals in seven appearances and his availability would be a significant boost to the Hammers’ hopes of reaching a fist major European final in 47 years.
The former Nottingham Forest forward struggled for minutes during the first half of the season following the high-profile arrival of Italian centre-forward Gianluca Scamacca and was even linked with a January departure after Danny Ings’ signing from Aston Villa added further competition to Moyes’ squad.
With Scamacca sidelined by a knee injury, however, Antonio’s return to form in recent months has been a vital part of West Ham’s late season revival and the striker had started eight Premier League games in a row before Sunday.
Meanwhile, Brentford defender Ben Mee has set his sights on ending the season as top dogs in west London, after Sunday’s result guaranteed the Bees will finish above Chelsea for the first time since 1939.
Thomas Frank’s ninth-placed side are also certain of a top-half finish in only their second ever Premier League campaign and have a two-point cushion over local rivals Fulham in 10th with just two games left to play.
“It’s a very good setup here, a lot of good people pulling in the right direction and good things can happen when people do that,” said Mee, who signed on a free transfer from Burnley last summer. “There’s all the ingredients to be very successful. Coming here and seeing the quality of players, I’m not surprised we are where we are, to be honest.
“To be top 10 is fantastic, to finish above Fulham would be nice as well. Obviously, [Chelsea] haven’t had a great season themselves, but 53 points in a Premier League season is great and now we’ve got two tough games to finish.”