After a brief wobble, West Ham ended up congratulating themselves on how they have used the money from Declan Rice’s £105m move to Arsenal. There were two more assists for James Ward-Prowse, who has made a flying start to life at the London Stadium, and a first goal for Mohammed Kudus since his £37m move from Ajax.
Kudus’s header came during a blistering turnaround in the second half and ensured that David Moyes’s side made a winning start to their Europa League campaign, though not before they had given TSC hope of pulling off an unlikely shock.
Never happier than when they are absorbing pressure and waiting for opportunities to strike on the break, this was a different kind of test for West Ham. TSC, intent on smothering and spoiling as they adjusted to playing in Europe for the first time, had done their homework.
There was no hint of the visitors pushing up, no chance of them allowing the game to open up, and it was instructive to see them being warned about time-wasting as early as the 31st minute.
The plan, to sit back and disrupt West Ham’s rhythm, was going well. Indeed, TSC even had a couple of chances as half-time approached; the best of them, a header from Sasa Jovanovic that grazed Lukasz Fabianski’s crossbar, was a warning for West Ham that would have to play with more intensity if the night was not going to end in disappointment.
West Ham looked short of ideas by the time the interval arrived, though they could not be accused of a lack of endeavour. Not once has Moyes treated these Thursday night assignments as an inconvenience. Playing in Europe has been an enriching experience, not least when Jarrod Bowen was running through to settle last season’s Europa Conference League final, and Moyes has always sent his side out with the right attitude.
There are obvious benefits to Moyes leading West Ham into three consecutive European campaigns for the first time in their history. There is depth to the Scot’s squad, quality arriving during the summer, and it initially seemed that West Ham would overwhelm TSC. The Serbian leaders were anything but expansive.
Yet the problem for West Ham, who made nine changes before visiting Liverpool on Sunday, was that they failed to strike when they were on top. Ward-Prowse went close in the fourth minute, bending a free-kick over, and the pressure was relentless during the opening 20 minutes. Danny Ings and Thilo Kehrer both extended the goalkeeper Nikola Simic, and Konstantinos Mavropanos headed narrowly wide. West Ham were full of good intentions and there was excitement whenever Kudus, making his first start in attack, found space on the edge of the area.
It had seemed that TSC would crack. West Ham had given a debut to Mavropanos in central defence but the action was at the other end. Mavropanos almost turned in a cross-shot from Pablo Fornals. Kudus cut in from the right, dropped a shoulder and saw a deflected effort spin just wide.
Where TSC were effective, though, was in minimising Lucas Paquetá’s influence. They squeezed the midfielder’s space, preventing him from threading passes through, and others in claret and blue had to step up. Saïd Benrahma needed more consistency on the left, Ings more tenacity up front, and Fornals could not complain about being replaced by Michail Antonio in the 61st minute, by which point West Ham were 1-0 down and struggling to regain their early momentum.
TSC’s goal was the ultimate sucker punch. West Ham were sleeping at the start of the second half were punished for their lack of urgency when Angelo Ogbonna, the last man back, lost the ball to Petar Stanic. Ogbonna could only watch in horror as Stanic ran through and beat Fabianski with an emphatic finish.
A hush fell over the home fans. West Ham had to stay calm. The entrance of Antonio made a difference, stretching TSC and opening up space on the flanks. Five minutes later Benrahma perked up, twisting and turning before crossing from the left. Kudus attacked it and Nemanja Petrovic turned the ball into his own net.
It was not long before West Ham led. The aerial barrage wore TSC down and Kudus took advantage of poor marking by heading in Ward-Prowse’s corner. Tomas Soucek, on as a substitute, would make the scoreline look more emphatic by scoring from another Ward-Prowse set-piece with eight minutes left.