As Mark Noble prepared to enter the pitch with 14 minutes left he could have been forgiven if his mind had drifted back to the bad old days. Noble knows better than anyone that West Ham were a shambles not so long ago, until David Moyes arrived to instil stability and togetherness, and it is doubtful that the veteran midfielder ever imagined his final season as a professional would involve his boyhood club beginning on an adventure that could end with them cavorting around with the Europa League trophy in Seville next month.
Yet this is what West Ham have become under Moyes. This is why their disbelieving fans say they are massive. There is a defiance to this team, a refusal to wilt under pressure, but there is quality too. This run is not a fluke. West Ham had already defied expectations by beating Sevilla last month and, although they will need to be good again when they face Eintracht Frankfurt in the last four, they deserve to be seen as a genuine European force after the way they took Lyon apart on an astonishing night at the Groupama Stadium.
It was difficult to think of many better away performances under Moyes, whose plan worked to perfection. Clinical goals from Craig Dawson, Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen were no more than West Ham deserved. Their blend of physical power and counter-attacking prowess was too much for Lyon, who will regret not capitalizing on playing the entire second half of last week’s first leg at the London Stadium against 10 men, and as Moyes pointed out it would not have been possible without a storming display from Michail Antonio, whose hold-up play up front utterly flummoxed Castello Lukeba and Jason Denayer.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Moyes, who was also delighted with how his side coped with three key defenders missing. Before kick-off it had been hard not to wonder how West Ham would fare without Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna in central defense and the suspended Aaron Cresswell at left-back. A centre-back partnership of Dawson and Issa Diop in a European quarter-final? Surely the run was going to come to an end.
By the end of the night, however, Moyes was praising Diop for overcoming a shaky start and talking about how Dawson is getting better with every game. West Ham had stood firm. They had survived a torrid opening spell in which Karl Toko Ekambi had struck the woodwork for Lyon, Vladimir Coufal had escaped a penalty appeal for handball and Diop had picked up a booking for a clumsy foul on Moussa Dembélé.
“Lyon played really well for 25 minutes,” Moyes said, but it was not enough. After a while West Ham began to impose themselves, Manuel Lanzini knitting things together in the middle, and their threat grew whenever they were able to work Antonio into dangerous positions.
Lyon were terrified of the striker’s pace. Antonio was involved when the tireless Pablo Fornals had a shot from 20 yards and he almost created the opening goal with a cross for Bowen, who was unlucky not to turn the ball home at the far post.
West Ham were growing in confidence at that stage. Rice and Tomáš Souček were outplaying Tanguy Ndombele and Thiago Mendes in midfield, and Lyon were looking vulnerable under the high ball. Set-pieces were an obvious path to goal for West Ham, and so it proved when Fornals sent in a corner after 38 minutes. Dawson simply wanted it more than Lyon’s defenders and his header meant West Ham were ahead on aggregate.
Lyon, whose fans disgraced themselves by fighting with security staff after full-time, cracked again before half-time. Ben Johnson, filling in for Cresswell, crossed from the left and Emerson Palmieri’s poor clearance was collected by Rice on the edge of the area. He took a touch and sent a low shot beyond Julian Pollersbeck, who was deputizing for the injured Anthony Lopes in goal.
Rice ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with West Ham’s disbelieving traveling support and the home fans fell silent. This was not in the script and Peter Bosz responded at the break by replacing Ndombele and Romain Faivre with Tetê and Lucas Paquetá, who was in the squad despite reportedly testing positive for Covid yesterday morning.
Yet West Ham were in their element. Three minutes into the second half they stopped a Lyon attack and countered when Rice, Fornals and Lanzini played their way out of trouble and found Antonio. He found Fornals and when the Spaniard sent Bowen clear all that was left was for the winger to score with a calm finish from 20 yards. The tie was over: West Ham were too professional to let go of their lead. Frankfurt are next after stunning Barcelona and West Ham will believe they can go all the way.