Europa League: Eintracht Frankfurt 1 West Ham United 0 (3-1 on agg)
- Credit: PA
The Hammers Euro dreams sadly faded and died at Deutsche Bank Park, where Aaron Cresswell’s early dismissal cost the David Moyes side oh so dearly.
Critically reduced to 10 men with less than 20 minutes on the clock, a difficult assignment then became mission impossible for West Ham United when Raphael Borré fired home what proved to be the match-winner shortly afterwards.
But following this epic Europa League campaign the Hammers and their travelling supporters can still proudly hold their heads high, especially on a night when they still managed to create chances in an intimidating cauldron of sound and smoke in equal measure.
Having lost the semi-final first-leg 1-2 seven days earlier, sadly there was to be no repeat of West Ham’s last-four heroics against Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1975/76 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Indeed, 46 years ago to the day since the Hammers lost to Anderlecht in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, it will be the Germans who now meet Rangers in Seville later this month and that will be an even greater disappointment for Glaswegian Moyes, who was also red-carded following a touchline kerfuffle with a ball-boy.
With each team having one eye on this gigantic German return, both sides had suffered defeats last time out with the Hammers losing to Arsenal on Sunday and Eintracht falling to Bayer Leverkusen some 24 hours later.
And four days on from his side’s encounter with the Gunners, Moyes made a quartet of changes as Tomáš Souček, Michail Antonio, Craig Dawson and keeper Alphonse Areola returned in place of substitutes Saïd Benrahma, Mark Noble, Ryan Fredericks and Łukasz Fabiański.
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Kicking off in the most hostile and partisan atmosphere encounter of their travels to date and, with the haze from the pre-match pyrotechnics still clearing, the Hammers soon forced an early corner but when Cresswell’s flag-kick was half-cleared, the off-balance Dawson could only prod the ball into the clutches of Kevin Trapp.
Chasing that one-goal, first-leg deficit, Antonio accelerated upfield, where his accidental collision with Martin Hinteregger resulted in the Eintracht central defender retiring with a hamstring injury just seven minutes into the tie as Almamy Touré received an early call from the bench.
Hinteregger had been one of half-dozen changes from Monday evening as Frankfurt's coach also recalled Borré plus first-leg scorers Ansgar Knauff and Daichi Kamada alongside skipper Sebastian Rode and Djibril Sow.
Then, on 19 minutes the pivotal moment of the Hammers 2021/22 European campaign arrived when Jens Petter Hauge sprinted onto a defence-splitting through ball and, with last defender Cresswell grabbing a handful of the German’s jersey, the Norwegian international needed no further invitation to hit the deck some 20 yards from goal.
It was a carbon copy of the situation that the one-time England left-back had found himself in against Olympique Lyonnais in the quarter-final and, although referee Jesús Gil Manzano only produced an initial yellow card he was then sent to refer to his pitch-side monitor.
And in a moment of desperately disappointing deja vu, Cresswell saw the official upgrade the punishment to red, leaving the left-back to take another early walk down the tunnel of shame for the second time during the knockout stages of this campaign.
After seeing Filip Kostič rifle the consequent free-kick just inches wide, Moyes sacrificed the unfortunate Manuel Lanzini in his quest to shore up the left side of his defence.
But on 26 minutes – and with substitute Ben Johnson still finding his footing on the Frankfurt turf – Touré found the overlapping Knauff, who ghosted down the right-flank before cutting back to the unmarked Borré and the Colombian swept Frankfurt ahead from eight yards.
Now, the 10 men faced the Everest-like task of finding a foothold to claw back their two-goal deficit but try as they might, they just could not make any inroads.
Evan N’Dicka somehow extended his outstretched leg to foil an amazed Antonio just as the Jamaican striker thought he was clean through, while Souček then sent a looping header over the top.
Two minutes before the break, though, the consequently-cautioned N’Dicka’s forceful challenge on Antonio was not so clean but when Jarrod Bowen’s resulting free-kick finally arrived at the far post, the Frenchman atoned for that foul by clearing off the line after compatriot Kurt Zouma hooked goalwards.
Just after the restart, Borré’s low 20-yarder forced Areola into a low save while at the other end, Bowen’s low cross into the danger-zone was cleared by the grounded Touré as Antonio raced in for the kill.
On the hour mark, the industrious Antonio swung over a left-wing cross which was met by Dawson but the alert Trapp was on hand to field the 10-yard header and popping up on the other side of the box, the Hammers striker then drilled in another low ball which the Frankfurt keeper frustratingly parried into no-man’s land.
With the clock ticking down, Moyes withdrew Pablo Fornals as Benrahma emerged from the dug-out and immediately let fly with a 15-yarder that was deflected for a corner and that was the catalyst for a frantic frenzied finale that would see referee Manzano become the busiest man on the pitch.
With Moyes anxious to recycle a stray ball in the technical area a brief melee ensued that resulted in the incredulous Scot being shown the red card that sent him back into the Hammers dressing room alongside Cresswell.
Still the Spanish official had work to do as he went on to book Benrahma, Knauff and Trapp and still West Ham battled with Rice, Bowen and Antonio all threatening to find the equaliser that would have heralded an intriguing final few minutes.
In the end, though, last week’s home defeat and Cresswell’s second-leg sending-off had simply left the Hammers with too much to do and with the final whistle signalling a mass pitch invasion of ecstatic Eintracht fans.
So close, yet so far, everyone connected with the Hammers can now return to London proud of their team’s efforts this season, while reflecting on just what might have been.
Eintracht Frankfurt: Trapp, Tuta, N’Dicka, Hinteregger (Touré 7), Knauff, Kostić, Rode (Jakić 76), Sow, Hauge (Hrustic 82), Kamada, Borré (Paciência 82). Unused subs: Grahl, Lammers, Hasebe, Ache, Chandler, da Costa, Lenz, Barkok.
West Ham United: Areola, Coufal (Yarmolenko 87), Cresswell, Zouma, Dawson, Rice, Souček, Fornals (Benrahma 74), Lanzini (Johnson 22), Bowen, Antonio. Unused subs: Fabiański, Randolph, Vlašić, Noble, Diop, Fredericks, Masuaku, Král, Alese.
Booked: N’Dicka (43), Rice (45+2), Benrahma (82), Knauff (82), Trapp (90).
Sent off: Cresswell (19).
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano.