After making the mistake of being too passive either side of half-time, this turned into a useful exercise for West Ham. It is rare for David Moyes’s side to dominate possession and they needed to be smart after a dreadful error from Angelo Ogbonna handed TSC Backa Topola a lead to defend at the start of the second half. The pressure was on, particularly as TSC are the weakest team in Group A, and West Ham responded. They moved the ball at greater speed, stretched the play and made a winning start to their Europa League campaign after puncturing TSC’s defence with their ability to load the box and overwhelm opponents with James Ward-Prowse’s threat from a dead ball.
What a start Ward-Prowse has made to his time in east London. There were two more assists for the midfielder here, which will delight Moyes. The manager fought to bring Ward-Prowse in from Southampton in the summer, reasoning that his clever passing and set-piece prowess would improve his side, and can take immense satisfaction from how West Ham have recovered from selling Declan Rice to Arsenal for £105m.
The hope for Moyes is that creative talents such as Kudus turn West Ham into a more artful side. Never happier than when they are absorbing pressure and waiting for opportunities to strike on the break, this was a different kind of test for them. TSC, intent on smothering and spoiling as they adjusted to playing in Europe for the first time, had done their homework. There was no chance of them pushing up during the first half.
The plan was to sit back and make West Ham play in front of them. It worked well for long periods, with the visitors twice threatening to snatch the lead as half-time approached, though West Ham could not be accused of a lack of endeavour. Not once has Moyes treated these Thursday night assignments as an inconvenience. Playing in Europe has been an enriching experience, not least when Jarrod Bowen was running through to settle last season’s Europa Conference League final, and Moyes has always sent his side out with the right attitude.
There are obvious benefits to Moyes leading West Ham into three consecutive European campaigns for the first time in their history. There is depth to the Scot’s squad and it initially seemed that West Ham would overwhelm TSC. The Serbian leaders were anything but expansive.
Yet the problem for West Ham, who visit Liverpool on Sunday and made nine changes, was that they failed to strike when they were on top. Danny Ings and Thilo Kehrer tested Nikola Simic before Konstantinos Mavropanos, who was handed his debut in central defence, headed narrowly wide from a corner.
Where TSC were effective, though, was in minimising Lucas Paquetá’s influence. They squeezed the midfielder’s space and others in claret and blue had to step up. Saïd Benrahma needed more consistency on the left, Ings more tenacity up front, and Pablo Fornals could not complain about being replaced by Michail Antonio in the 61st minute.