David Moyes defended his team selection after West Ham’s unbeaten European record was reduced to ruins in Athens, their first loss in continental competition in 18 matches.
Moyes, who led his side to the Europa Conference League title last season, made seven changes for their Europa League Group A clash in the Greek capital with one eye on Sunday’s visit of Everton and Wednesday’s Carabao Cup tie at home to Arsenal. But his tinkering backfired as a soft goal from Olympiakos’s captain, Kostas Fortounis, and an own goal from the stand-in Hammers skipper, Angelo Ogbonna, brought their undefeated run to a halt despite Lucas Paquetá’s late volley.
“Look, we changed a lot of players tonight, we’ve got the Premier League coming up and we’ve got a League Cup game next week and we’d won the first two games in the group, which gave us leeway to make changes tonight,” Moyes told the club’s website.
“But maybe I have to recognise that while we didn’t win the Conference League games easily, as they were all tough games, coming to Olympiakos after winning away in Freiburg – which was a good result – this wasn’t a good result and wasn’t a good performance.
“In our heads we certainly had a bigger picture in our heads and that was going into Sunday. I don’t think anybody could say the team we started with wasn’t a good team and wasn’t a team capable of winning or performing. Many of them have been very good players for us over the years and still are.”
A hostile reception for West Ham was guaranteed at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, with Olympiakos even issuing a warning to their supporters not to throw missiles or target players with laser pens. That plea came after their match against fierce rivals Panathinaikos on Sunday had to be abandoned when a visiting player was hit by a firework hurled from the crowd.
With tensions high in Athens – Panathinaikos were also playing at home a few miles away – around 1,600 West Ham fans were bussed in from the city centre to the ground under a police escort to avoid any potential trouble. The local ultras did not disappoint, with a huge banner reading “tonight you dine in hell” welcoming the visitors on to the pitch amid a cauldron of noise. Moyes would certainly have found West Ham’s first-half display hard to stomach.
The hosts took the lead in the 34th minute when Fortounis turned away from Emerson Palmieri, James Ward-Prowse and Pablo Fornals far too easily, 25 yards out. Fortounis launched an old-fashioned toe poke from the edge of the box which flew past the flat-footed Alphonse Areola in the West Ham goal.
On the stroke of half-time the Hammers found themselves two behind when Ogbonna suffered his own personal Greek tragedy. The Italian veteran stuck out a foot to block a cross from Brazilian full-back Rodinei, only to help it past Areola into his own net.
West Ham did at least come out in the second half with more purpose, but a low cross from Emerson was scooped over the crossbar by Danny Ings. Moyes made a triple substitution before the hour mark with Paquetá, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio entering the fray.
Paquetá halved the deficit with a stunning volley from the edge of the box with four minutes left, but despite a late flurry they could not find an equaliser. A victory would have all but secured West Ham’s passage into the knockout stages but now they find themselves with work to do, lying level with Freiburg at the top of the group with Olympiakos two points behind.