West Ham extended their impressive unbeaten run in Europe to 16 games as they beat TSC Backa Topola at the London Stadium on Thursday night.
In what was their first European outing since that night in Prague, it had the credentials to be a disaster when the visitors, who were making their first-ever appearance in Europe, took a shock lead through Petar Stanic minutes after the interval.
However, on his first start for the club since a £40 million move from Ajax, Mohammed Kudus stepped up to the plate and scored a quickfire double in the 66th and 70th-minute, before substitute Tomas Soucek secured all three points late on.
Story of the Game
West Ham set up with a midfield three of James Ward-Prowse sitting at the base alongside Lucas Paqueta, with Pablo Fornals positioned further forward to support a front three of Kudus on the right, Said Benrahma on the left, and Danny Ings in the middle.
Zarko Lazetic made a surprise exclusion to his team as 2023 Golden Boy nominee Valjko Ilic was dropped in favour of Nikola Simic in goal. In front of him was a back five consisting of Milos Cvetkovic and Nemanja Petrovic at wing-back, alongside a centre-back trio of Mateja Dordevic, Goran Antonic, and Nemanja Stojic.
Backa Topola's midfield comprised Milan Radin, Nikola Kuveljic, and Ifet Dakovac behind a front two of Stanic and Namenja Petrovic, who were leading the line.
West Ham came close to opening the scoring within the opening four minutes of the game. Ward-Prowse stepped up to take a free-kick, following a foul on Kudus, and his effort deflected off the wall and agonisingly looped onto the roof of the net.
Backa Topola had a sighting of goal themselves moments later as Jovanovic found himself in the West Ham area. However, his effort was tame and rolled comfortably into the hands of Fabianski.
West Ham had to bide their time throughout the first half as the visitors' game plan was clear, with them sitting back and inviting the Hammers onto them. Ings stung the palms of Simic with a strike from outside the area in the 15th-minute before Fornals saw his attempt deflect into the goalkeepers' arms.
The hosts then came close to taking the lead moments later. With TSC unable to clear Cresswell's flat cross, the ball fell to Kehrer at the back post; the right-back fired a left-footed strike towards goal but was denied by the feet of Simic.
Kudus came close to getting a debut goal soon after as his shot bounced off the back of Stojic and spun narrowly past the post. Debutant Mavropanos leapt highest at the following corner but directed his header wide of the left post.
Despite all of West Ham's possession, Backa Topola defended amicably and made it difficult for the Hammers to create clear-cut chances. Simic was again called into action at the half-hour mark, albeit less than convincingly, as he shovelled Paqueta's tame strike away from goal.
Lazetic's side grew in confidence as the half went on and will have been disappointed not to have taken the lead before the break.
The Serbian side first came close when Jovanovic's headed flick-on at the near post flashed across the face of goal before being cleared by Cresswell, then Stojic saw his header from a deeper corner clip the top of the bar in first half stoppage-time.
The visitors started the second half as strong as they ended the first and took a shock lead minutes after the restart.
Ogbonna, who was named captain on the night, got caught in possession as he was unable to sort his feet out under pressure from Stanic. The 22-year-old nipped the ball away and race through on goal unopposed before sliding the ball calmly past Fabianski's outstretched leg.
Supporters' frustration promptly became apparent as Lazetic's side resumed their defensive stance and continued to prove to be very difficult to break down. West Ham thought they had been awarded a penalty when the referee points as Ogbonna fell trying to reach Fornals' cross, but Filip Glova was pointing for a goal kick.
After persistent knocking on the door, West Ham levelled the score through Kudus in the 66th-minute. It was set up by a moment of brilliance from Benrahma, who sat Dordevic down before producing an in-swinging cross from the left for Kudus to prod home from close range.
Four minutes later the Ghanaian international was again on the scoresheet. Moments after Fabianski was tested at the other end, Ward-Prowse's corner was met by the head of the 23-year-old, who directed the ball into the bottom right corner - making it a full debut to remember.
There was a significant change in mood at the London Stadium as a rendition of 'champions of Europe, we know what we are' rang out around the stadium as the Europa Conference League holders re-established control.
West Ham went on to put the game out to bed as, again, they scored from a corner. Another brilliant in-swinging cross from Ward-Prowse was met by Tomas Soucek at the front post in the 82nd-minute.
Antonio came close to making it four in the final few minutes when Simic parried Soucek's effort towards the 33-year-old, but his effort was magnificently cleared off the line. He then came close again from the resulting corner as he met Ward-Prowse's in-swinger but his effort flash past the post.
The Hammers' quick-fire goals knocked the steam out of Backa Topola, who produced a commendable performance on their European debut, and were unable to leave England with a perhaps deserved point.
Player of the Match: Mohammed Kudus
Kudus has had to bide his time since his arrival in east London as Moyes eases him into things; tonight proved that good things happen to those who wait.
While there was a period in the game where the 23-year-old's influence faded, which coincided with West Ham's complacency and TSC taking the lead, Kudus was a livewire throughout and put his talent out there for all to see.
He showed a willingness to be the one to break through a stern resistence and was getting into threatening positions through combination play, particularly in the first half.
His two goals were a result of being in the right place at the right time, and his confidence soared because of it; a rabona pass moments after his second epitomised his head space in the moment.
It's still early days but Kudus has promptly endeared himself to the West Ham support. If he can produce performances like that on the regular, his name will be on the lips of near 60,000 people each weekend in no time.