WEST HAM are proving to be head and shoulders above the rest as they moved to the brink of a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
The happy Hammers are loving life on their overseas adventure as they made it three wins from three in Group H – needing just four points from the nine available to seal top spot.
West Ham centre-back Craig Dawson opened the scoring against Genk at the London StadiumCredit: AP
Dawson celebrates with Declan Rice after breaking the deadlock in first half stoppage timeCredit: AFP
Qualification can even be secured if the win the return match in Genk in fortnight if the other game between Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna is drawn.
This time they didn’t rely on their impressive attacking stars to seal the win, with the head of Issa Diop and shoulder of defensive partner Craig Dawson coming up trumps.
Dawson opened the scoring in slightly fortunate fashion in first half stoppage time, before Diop connected full on with powerful header 12 minutes after the break to put them in control.
And when Jarrod Bowen struck the third within 60 seconds with a crisp strike off the toe of his left foot, all that was needed was someone to knee home a fourth and the London Stadium would have broken out into a nursery song.
Bonkers as it may have sounded at the start of the season, the Hammers have made such easy work of the Europa League so far they will be a team to fear for the rest when the competition gets serious after Christmas.
For barring a collapse of huge proportions, that is surely where David Moyes and his merry men will be heading in the New Year.
Issa Diop doubled West Ham’s lead after meeting Aaron Cresswell’s delivery shortly after the breakCredit: Reuters
Defender Diop looked delighted after scoring his first goal of the seasonCredit: Reuters
The limitations in the Hammers squad means Moyes does not have the luxury of resting an entire team for European endeavours, in the way Tottenham did.
So though there was already one eye on Sunday’s date with their big London rivals, the vital Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were again needed to patrol the midfield.
No such chances can be taken with the fragile hamstrings of Michail Antonio, especially on a cold night, so he was missing completely from the matchday squad.
And though that was a relief to the home supporters keen to put one over Spurs this weekend, it did once again expose the biggest weakness in this emerging squad – a lack of a viable striking option beyond the Jamaican international.
So it played out in a first half where West Ham often found themselves in good positions but lacking the extra injection of pace needed to get in behind the Genk defence.
Jarrod Bowen is seen as the best back-up option, and though willing and lively, at present he lacks the killer instinct to make the most of the many good positions he finds himself in.
Three times he snatched at opportunities to open the scoring and three times he was found wanting – the worst coming with a wild air shot when Ben Johnson picked him out just six yards from goal.
The lack of penetration was increasingly frustrating given Genk, unlike Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna, had actually come out and posed problems in an attacking sense themselves.
Jarrow Bowed fired the hosts into a 3-0 lead just 60 seconds after Diop headed homeCredit: Getty
Bowen proved to be a lively figure for West Ham throughout the Group H clashCredit: Reuters
Right from the off there were early warnings, first as the Belgian’s had an eighth minute Theo Bongonda header ruled out because Jujnya Ito was just offside in the build-up.
And when keeper Alphonse Areola made a hash of claiming a cross, allowing giant striker Paul Onuachu to loop a header inches wide, the alarm bells were ringing.
But in the first minute of stoppage time before the break, the stuttering Hammers managed to find the breakthrough thanks to defender Dawson.
Aaron Cresswell’s corner from the left was met by the big centre-back on the run, and the ball looped off his shoulder to drop into the top corner.
West Ham were a different team in the opening 15 minutes of the second half as they stepped up a gear – and two goals within a minute just before the hour sealed the win.
Genk’s defence is packed full of giants, but even that was not enough to stop set-piece kings West Ham as Creswell’s free-kick from the left was buried into off the underside of the bar by French defender Diop.
David Moyes fielded a strong team ahead of Sunday’s home match against rivals TottenhamCredit: Reuters
With the Belgians on the rack, the Hammers went for the jugular and within a minute of the restart they were home and dry when Bowen finally found his shooting boots.
The visiting defence stood off as he burst forward cutting in from the right, driving a low shot through the body of keeper Maarten Vandevoordt into the net.
Job done – and Moyes was afford the luxury of hooking the commanding Rice immediately to save him for the battle ahead against Tottenham.
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