Europa League
Backa Topola 0-1 West Ham United 

Thursday, 30th November 2023
by Chris Wilkerson

It was another case of three points and move on as West Ham laboured to a 1-0 win in Serbia, beating a game but poor TSC side.

The Hammers need only a draw from their final game to top Group A and skip the next round of the Europa League, a prize well worth winning. Not only will it see David Moyes side miss out on a tie with a Champions League third-placed dropout, it would also save them from playing two extra games, and any week off is valued in West Ham's busy schedule.

Embed from Getty Images

They made hard work of it here, their rotated side seeing only four of the starters from the victory over Burnley at the weekend. It was the home side who arguably had the better chances in what was, in truth, one of the worst 90 minutes of football you'll likely see.

The two sides were compact and disciplined, but neither found much in terms of creativity. It was dour, made worse by the fact neither side was bad defensively, which often saves the contest in terms of entertainment when two flat sides meet. Instead, this played out like a meaningless friendly.

But it ended as each of the last three West Ham games now have, with Tomas Soucek meeting a cross late on and securing a win for his side. With three winners in three games, it is hard to argue that anyone is having more impact on West Ham's results right now.

The Czech midfielder was part of a strong three in the middle, with Ward-Prowse sitting the deepest, and Soucek and Paqueta either side of him. Amongst seven changes, there were chances for Ben Johnson and Divin Mubama to impress, the young striker making his second start for the club, and coming off a good cameo against Burnley at the weekend.

In a game where he had little service to thrive off, the forward showed he can be more of a presence than Ings, offering more physicality and better pace, which was a notable contrast to Ings's display at Turf Moor.

The Hammers lacked intensity throughout the game, starting slowly and never really picking up the pace. It was the home side who threatened goal in the first half, and they chased a first ever win in Europe, a win that would have also brought them level with Olympiacos ahead of their last game clash. Third place will drop into the Europa Conference League, and the Serbian side would love to carry on this European run.

They had half a chance inside the first 10 minutes as Cvetkovic made good progress down the right and hit a low ball into the box. It was met by Milovanovic, who darted across his man to the near post and met the pass first time. Around 12 yards out, it had Fabianski at full stretch as it rolled across goal, but lacked the pace to beat the Pole.

The striker was causing some issues and soon had another shot well blocked by Johnson in the box as the home side found a little more joy than they likely expected in front of a home crowd in Backa Topola.

West Ham, on the other hand, had produced nothing, unable to unlock a packed defence and lacking any of the guile, skill or energy to force their way through.

With a smidgen over half hour played, the home side were gifted a big opportunity after Cresswell played a lazy pass across his own box. Well, it should have been across his own box, but instead it was 10 yards outside it and directly to Cirkovic. The midfielder took it on into the box, but his shot was poor, scuffing off Mavropanos and right into the hands of Fabianski. He had the time and space to do much better.

It was soon followed by West Ham's first shot on target of the game. Benrahma carried the ball for some 25 yards down the left wing and drove into the box, cutting it onto his right foot, but then meekly shooting right at the goalkeeper.

A late Soucek header from a deep Ward-Prowse freekick floated harmlessly wide in stoppage time to put an end to a woeful half of football.

Going in at 0-0, the manager cannot have been happy with what his team had shown. In the other game in the group, Freiburg were 4-0 up at half-time, setting up a winner-takes-all final match at the London Stadium. If West Ham stayed level, or even lost here, they would have to beat Freiburg to take that coveted top spot. A win would leave the Hammers only needing a draw, thanks to their win in Germany back in October.

Neither side found much life again in the early stages of the second half, although not conceding inside the first 15 minutes after the restart has to be considered a small win for The Hammers.

Milovanovi?? was the first to get a glimpse of goal, hitting low at Fabianski from the edge of the box, but the second half was even more lifeless than the first as the hour mark drifted by.

With a little over 20 minutes to play, Moyes rolled the dice, replacing Mubama and Benrahma with the much maligned pair of Ings and Cornet. The Ivory Coast international is an intriguing figure in the West Ham squad. His injury last season appears to have taken a real physical toll on him still, and his minutes are incredibly limited.

Rather than ire, he appears to have been earned a level of sympathy from the fanbase, a player who has thrived in the league before clearly seen as incredibly unfortunate to have found his career stalled so drastically due to injury.

He went down the right, moving Fornals across to the left, but the impetus the manager demanded didn't come.

With just a touch over 10 minutes to go, the manager swapped the full backs, Emerson and Kehrer coming on to replace Cresswell and Johnson, but it looked like a team who had scored in the previous 19 European games on the run may finally be kept at nil.

That was how it stayed until there was a minute left of regulation time on the clock.

A slow passing move made its way out to the right, and Cornet was left under very little pressure and a bit of space. He shifted it onto his left and curled in a peach of a cross into the middle of the box.

The ball dropped just over Ings's head around six yards out, but running in behind him was that last-gasp saviour once more. Up jumped Soucek, stretching a leg forward to volley the ball, prodding it home from the edge of the six-yard box and wheeling away to celebrate another winner, a third winning goal in three games.

He looked to make it 2-0 a minute later when he tried to lob the TSC goalkeeper from just inside the opposition half, but barely managed to kick it off the ground as it drilled low and wide. Such is his confidence in these late stages now.

It put to bed a quite awful game, but another one that West Ham have refused to give up on and turned into a win when the game looked to be drifting away from them.

With it, The Hammers returned to the top of Group A, and need now only to draw with Freiburg at the London Stadium to secure that top spot. With qualification also secured, let us never speak about this game again.

Manager's Rating

David Moyes 6/10: His side did the job, and one of his subs got the assist, but it doesn't really feel like one you can give him great credit for. The team are winning, even if they aren't performing too well, and that'll be enough to keep him going. He can only hope the wins will help the performances pick up.

Want to submit your match reports to More details here ...

 Click to view all West Ham United vs Backa Topola match reports

 Click to view all match reports by Chris Wilkerson

Like to share your thoughts on this article? Please visit the KUMB Forum to leave a comment.

Player Ratings


Did not play.

Did not play.

Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: , , , , , , , , , , .

Goals: None.

Booked: None.

Sent off: None.

Backa Topola: Ilić, Antonić, Čalušić, Stojić, Petrović, Cvetković, Radin (Vulić 77), Kuveljić (Vlalukin 77), Ćirković (Sós 86), Milovanović (Pantović 77), Đakovac.

Subs not used: Simić, Jorgić, Mirchevski, Krstić, Rakonjac.

Goals: .

Booked: Petrović, Čalušić.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Allard Lindhout.

Attendance: 4,500.

Man of the Match: Tomas Soucek .