West Ham understudies give David Moyes little food for thought ahead of crunch AZ Alkmaar clash
As West Ham’s fans sang gleefully in the sunshine about the upcoming next stop on their European tour, seemingly unfussed by this comprehensive defeat to Brentford, David Moyes’s understudies were busy ensuring that they too will be heading to the Netherlands with only a watching brief.
With Thursday night’s Europa Conference League semi-final second leg against AZ Alkmaar on the mind and only a slender 2-1 lead to defend, Moyes made nine changes to his team here and, provided Michail Antonio can shake off a calf problem, the Scot will surely reverse the lot for the trip to Holland.
In truth, that was always likely to be the case, Moyes having finally arrived upon a settled first XI in recent weeks, but the likes of Pablo Fornals, Maxwel Cornet, Ben Johnson and Flynn Downes, all of whom have found regular opportunities hard to come by this season, failed to seize a rare chance to give the Irons boss some food for thought.
Johnson struggled all afternoon against the lightning-quick Kevin Schade and showed why the versatile Thilo Kehrer has slotted in ahead of him at right-back in the absence of Vladimir Coufal of late. Cornet was virtually anonymous on the left, pocketed by the excellent Aaron Hickey, while Fornals drilled a corner straight out of play in a groan-inducing incident that summed up his afternoon.
Downes was burgled by Mikkel Damsgaard after Nayef Aguerd’s risky pass as Brentford broke for their opener, Vitaly Janelt and Mathias Jensen combining to set up Bryan Mbeumo to score.
Even Lukasz Fabianski, the League first-choice in goal, blotted his copybook with a feeble attempt to keep out the Cameroonian’s low shot, when a better showing might have given Moyes at least the semblance of a dilemma after cup ‘keeper Alphonse Areola’s mistake for Alkmaar’s opener in midweek.
Brentford, not at full-strength themselves due to Ivan Toney’s hamstring injury, were clinical in exploiting their weakened opponents, Yoane Wissa proving an able deputy for the 20-goal striker as he headed the home side’s second after Ben Mee had flicked on Jensen’s long throw.
The margin of victory ought to have been greater, but three points for Thomas Frank’s side offer further evidence of the Bees resolve not to let their superb season fizzle out, despite slim hopes of a European spot having faded. The result guaranteed they will finish the campaign above west London rivals Chelsea, too.
If there was a positive for Moyes with a view to Thursday, it came in the final half-hour, when the introductions of first-choice regulars Said Benrahma and Declan Rice, along with academy youngster Divin Mubama, prompted a small upturn. From Benrahma’s cross, Manuel Lanzini set up Danny Ings to seemingly pull one back, only for referee Michael Oliver to chalk the goal off for Mubama’s handball in the build-up.
That West Ham would be able to afford an afternoon like this at this late stage of the season did not look likely a couple of months ago, and at least spoke of their more comfortable position in the table after last weekend’s win over Manchester United.
A defeat for Leicester against Liverpool on Monday would see safety assured, barring an unlikely set of results and a major goal-difference swing across the final two rounds of fixtures.
Before then, all eyes are on Alkmaar, where restored to full-strength, West Ham will have chance to ensure this drab showing is quickly forgotten.