West Ham scored late on to beat Olympiacos and secure a crucial Europa League victory that ensures they will play European football after Christmas, with the Hammers currently sitting top of their group on nine points.
The first half was defined by a lack of obvious goalscoring opportunities and poor quality in the final third. Despite West Ham having a wealth of attacking talent on show including the in-form Mohammed Kudus, Diego Martínez’s travelling side managed to frustrate the hosts.
In the second half, both sides looked to push forward in what was the first meeting between the two sides on English soil since 1965 when soon-to-be World Cup winner Geoff Hurst scored a brace to help the Hammers to victory on that day.
The breakthrough was a finish the legendary goalscorer would have been proud of, with James Ward-Prowse lobbing the ball over a standstill Olympiacos backline to find Paqueta who lashed it past Alexandros Paschalakis, a goal which would prove to be the decisive one.
For West Ham, the result boosts their confidence ahead of a big game against Forest at the weekend and means they are in a comfortable position going into the final two games of the group, with the Hammers having only suffered one defeat in their last 19 European games.
Story of the Match
Ahead of the crunch tie against Olympiacos, David Moyes chose to name a strong starting line-up as West Ham looked to continue their good form. Areola dropped to the bench in favour of Lukas Fabianski, who captained the side.
The same backline which played in the 3-2 loss to Brentford over the weekend was named, with Kurt Zouma not fit enough for a place on the bench after missing training in the week.
In midfield, Ederson Alvarez replaced Tomas Souček after the Mexican midfielder had missed the game over the weekend due to suspension. He partnered James Ward-Prowse who was in search of his first goal or assist in six games.
In the opposite dugout, Diego Martínez also named a strong side with left back Francisco Ortega returning to the line-up after an injury had kept him out of their weekend loss to PAOK.
Elsewhere, Sotiris Alexandropoulos started in the heart of the Thrylos defence with in-form attackers, Kostas Fortounis and Daniel Podence, playing either side of former Manchester City striker Stevan Jovetić, with the travelling side looking to win back to back games in Europe against West Ham.
Lack of final third quality was the theme of the first half
The early stages started with plenty of enthusiasm from both sides, with Olympiacos looking to push West Ham back in the early stages. However, the first shot would fall to the Hammers with Saïd Benrahma lashing a shot wide after being found by a raking cross field pass from Ward-Prowse.
Thirty seconds later, it would be Kudus who would get the London Stadium on their feet for the first time in the game, with the Ghanian producing a smart bit of footwork to get round his man before being stopped by Olympiacos’ central defender Panagiotis Retsos.
As the proceedings continued, West Ham started to latch onto more of the possession, with the first clear cut chance of the game falling at the feet of Benrahma, who attempted to bend the ball into the far corner of Alexandros Paschalakis’ net, who tipped it round the post.
The first to go into the book for the Irons was Mexican international Alvarez. The midfielder swept into Alexandropoulos, eliciting a cheer from the crowd at the London Stadium but a yellow card from the pocket of referee Matej Jug.
As the half approached its halfway mark, West continued their ventures forward. Bowen would win a corner, with the subsequent out swinging set piece from Ward Prowse meeting the head of Aguerd, for the second time, with the centre-back seeing his headed effort curl narrowly wide.
Benrahma continued his on goal efforts when the Algerian came onto the ball on the edge of box and directing a shot low towards the right of Paschalakis, who saved well. Again, the resulting corners found men in claret and blue but to no avail.
Olympiacos had their first venture forward when Ortega found space on the left hand side, placing a cross into the centre of the box where Podence tried to get over it but could only see his side go wide of a relieved Fabianski.
As the first half entered into it’s final minutes, smart passages of play by both sides were on show. However, a lack of quality in the final third was the predominant characteristic of a lively, albeit goalless, first half.
Paqueta finds breakthrough for West Ham
The second set of 45 minutes began in a similar fashion to the half, with Olympiacos sitting slightly higher and looking to press West Ham into a mistake. After winning the ball high and a spell of possession Mady Camara had the first effort with the long-range shot far from being on target.
Ten minutes into the first half, the first change of the game was made with Jovetić dropping to the bench in favour of Ayoub El Kaabi as Martínez looked for his side to pose more of a goalscoring threat.
As the game passed the hour mark, West Ham continued to be frustrated in attack with the Olympiacos backline standing firm against the intricate attempted passage of plays from the Irons.
A few minutes later, however, their hard work almost paid off when Bowen slipped past a man before nutmegging Rodinei and playing the ball back to an incoming Ward-Prowse, on the edge of the box, who agonisingly could not get a clean connection resulting in a simple save for Paschalakis.
Ward-Prowse’s chance marked the start of an increase in intensity in the game, with Bowen, who had switched from being the central striker to featuring on the right, starting to make things happen for the East London contingent.
West Ham’s perseverance paid off when West Ham finally found the breakthrough. Ward-Prowse found space on the outskirts of the box before effortlessly dinking the ball over the Olympiacos backline finding Paqueta who first time volleyed the ball past Paschalakis and into the net.
West Ham’s initial enthusiasm was cut short when the goal was ruled out by the assistant referee. However, after a relatively quick check by VAR, the referee pointed to the centre spot and the goal was given as the London Stadium erupted into celebration.
With West Ham on top, it seemed only a howler of a mistake would allow Olympiacos back into the game. That almost occurred when Lukas Fabianski dropped the ball allowing El Kaabi a golden chance to score with the Polish keeper tipping his header wide before the offside flag went up sparing the West Ham captain from any blushes.
In the 86th minute, Martínez’s side had another excellent opportunity to score when Jackson Porozo rose highest from a corner to head the ball towards the backpost where a stooping Camara could only head the ball back off the post to the frustration of the travelling fans.
Camara's chance would mark the last for Olympiacos, with the Irons closing out on an important victory to stay top of Group A.
Player of the Match - James Ward-Prowse
With a lack of quality in the final third, it was former Southampton player, Ward-Prowse, that stepped up to play in Lucas Paqueta to score, delivering the moment of creativity and quality that was so desperately needed in the game.