Leverkusen knock out West Ham as Frimpong’s strike saves unbeaten run | Europa League


Bayer Leverkusen will be waking up with sore heads again. Their treble hopes remain alive, as does their unbeaten run after Jeremie Frimpong’s late equaliser, but this was uncomfortable. After the beer-stained celebrations that followed their regal charge to the Bundesliga title, Xabi Alonso’s side looked groggy on a pulsating night at the London Stadium and can count themselves lucky to be in a Europa League semi-final against Roma after beating West Ham 3-1 on aggregate.

West Ham were close to becoming the first side to beat Leverkusen in 44 matches this season. Michail Antonio’s early goal raised hopes of a comeback and there were plenty of near misses during a one-sided first half. It could have been different if one of those chances had gone in.

As it was, though, a spirited effort was not enough. David Moyes, whose contract expires at the end of the season, could only look back with pride. His future is up in the air, last year’s triumph in the Europa Conference League fading from view, and although a change of direction is on the cards this performance was a reminder of how brilliant Moyes has been for West Ham.

Nobody could accuse West Ham of lacking optimism. They were awkward and intense from the start, which kept a boisterous home crowd noisy and engaged, and stopped Leverkusen from building any momentum. Alonso, whose side have made a habit of hoarding possession, could soon be seen telling his players to calm down. He had to be worried when Odilon Kossounou, who had a stinker in central defence, picked up an early booking after losing possession before wiping out James Ward-Prowse with a risky lunge.

West Ham were chasing everything down. There was one moment of concern, Nathan Tella testing Lukasz Fabianski from long range, but otherwise it was impossible to tell that Leverkusen were Europe’s most in-form side. Then again, perhaps Moyes was on to something with his pre-match comments about the visitors having a few too many beers after their historic title win last weekend. West Ham, refusing to be weighed down by the absence of the suspended Lucas Paquetá in attacking midfield, were ready to hunt down any sign of lethargy.

Their harrying forced mistakes. Thirteen minutes in, their reward arrived. Leverkusen were pinned back and Tomas Soucek headed Josip Stanisic’s weak clearance to Jarrod Bowen. The winger, who passed a late fitness test on the spine injury that kept him out of the first leg, exchanged passes with Vladimir Coufal before crossing to the far post for Antonio to lose Kossounou and head past a flapping Matej Kovar.

Michail Antonio heads West Ham into an early lead. Photograph: Rob Newell/CameraSport/Getty Images

Their aggregate lead halved, Leverkusen looked stunned. West Ham ripped into them, Ward-Prowse pressing hard, and continued to create chances. Mohammed Kudus, dribbling in from the left, shot at Kovar. Antonio spurned a header and almost reached a fizzing cross. Moyes collapsed to the turf in disbelief when Kovar made an astonishing superb save from Bowen. Edson Álvarez’s shot hit Antonio.

It grew tense on the touchline. A row midway through the half ended with red cards for Billy McKinlay, West Ham’s assistant coach, and Sebastián Parrilla, a member of Leverkusen’s backroom staff. Alonso, observing it all, put Kossounou out of his misery. The centre-back was looking likely to get a second yellow or give away another goal before being replaced by Edmond Tapsoba.

Leverkusen welcomed the respite of half-time. Alonso made his next move, replacing the ineffective Patrik Schick and Tella with Victor Boniface and Frimpong. West Ham, who had rejigged their defence when Angelo Ogbonna came on for Nayef Aguerd, had an escape when Florian Wirtz miscued Frimpong’s cross.

There was a different feel; Leverkusen, without quite convincing, were more sure of themselves. West Ham were starting to play on the counterattack and were aggrieved when three consecutive challenges on Antonio went unpunished.

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They had to stay calm. They still had time. Leverkusen remained edgy and could have conceded when Piero Hincapié made a mess of dealing with a long ball down the right. Bowen stole possession but dragged wide from a tight angle.

Too many chances went begging and the problem for West Ham was that they lacked options on a bench that contained six academy players. They looked tired by the end.

West Ham barely threatened during the dying stages. Leverkusen poured through on the break as the minutes ticked away, only for Frimpong to blaze over. Alonso could not relax. The relief was hug when Frimpong’s deflected shot beat Fabianski with two minutes left.

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