·7 June 2023
·7 June 2023
hen Jarrod Bowen announced he and partner Dani Dyer were expecting twins back in January, he marked the occasion with a fitting double in a 2-0 win over Everton.
To celebrate their arrival late last month, he had said on Tuesday that just one goal in this Europa Conference League final would do. Not much to ask, hey?
But when the young Bowens grow old enough to open up and peruse the West Ham history books, they will find daddy’s legend plastered all over this particular chapter, the winger’s finish as time ran out ending a trophy drought that had lasted 43 years, 90 minutes but not a second longer.
This iteration of West Ham are now written in club folklore, Declan Rice in his final Hammers appearance joining Billy Bonds and Bobby Moore as the only club captains to lift silverware, David Moyes ending his career-long wait for major silverware to join Ron Greenwood and John Lyall as the only Irons managers to achieve the same feat.
Never in his wildest dreams, Bowen had added, had he imagined that West Ham would be playing in a European final when he signed from Championship Hull City three years ago and even as he put head on Prague pillow last night he could not have predicted it would end like this.
Said Benrahma’s spot-kick, won by Bowen’s dart in behind, had edged the Hammers in front but Fiorentina hit back swiftly through the excellent Giacomo Bonaventura and extra-time looked inevitable in a game that offered few chances before coming alive on the hour.
Scampering clear onto Lucas Paqueta’s sensational pass though, Bowen slid under (?), through (?), who cares (?) the onrushing Pietro Terracciano to spark bedlam in the claret and blue end, Moyes himself leading the bench-clearing celebrations.
Bowen’s season has in many ways mirrored his club’s, the winger admitting since to an unhealthy obsession with making England’s World Cup squad during the first half of the campaign, one which saw his form drop off a cliff and Gareth Southgate look elsewhere.
Gradually, since the New Year, though, the 26-year-old has begun to resemble his old self, his energy on the counter-attack a key component in a late-season revival that has taken Moyes from the brink of the sack to a place immortal in the space of a few months.
Indeed, there were times this season when Benrahma’s chief role in the West Ham story was as a cause celebre for the Moyes Out movement.
It was only back in March that chants of the Algerian’s name were interspersed with those calling for the manager’s head during the 4-0 humiliation at Brighton, Benrahma having been substituted midway through a defeat that, at the time, felt like the final straw.
The song was the same as Benrahma strode to the spot in front of the West Ham end here, an unenviable weight on his shoulders after a lengthy VAR delay confirmed Cristiano Biraghi’s handball off Bowen’s chest. You would not have known it from the panache of the conversion, though, a 12th goal of the season marking Benrahma’s best campaign since signing for the club.
Until that goal proved the catalyst for a dramatic last half-hour, this had been no thriller, between two teams perhaps overawed by the occasion, Fiorentina having themselves gone 22 years without a trophy.
From opposite ends of midfield, Rice and Sofyan Amrabat sized one another up like two generals eyeing the enemy lines across no-man’s land. Amrabat had said in the build-up that his duel with the Englishman would not be decisive but played as if he thought it was, all over his rival any time he dared venture into the void.
And make no mistake, this was a battle, an intense, ugly affair that commanded the attention in spite of its deformities. Indiscipline had been the root of West Ham’s last defeat in Europe, in Frankfurt more than a year ago, but even with that occasion for deterrent, keeping a lid on frustration was proving tricky in the face of some abysmal officiating.
Spanish referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande has a last name that translates literally as The Big Hill. Suffice to say that the 12,000 ticketless Hammers who had scaled one to the city’s Letna Park fan zone cannot have been impressed.
In the stands, anger boiled over, inexcusably, Biraghi running the gauntlet each time he took a corner and the plastic cups rained down until eventually one connected to leave the Fiorentina skipper bloodied and West Ham players pleading with their own supporters for calm. Luka Jovic finished the half in the wars, too, catching a stray boot as he stooped to head in a goal quickly disallowed for a narrow offside.
By the break, there had been only one official shot on target and even that, from the boot of Michail Antonio, had probably been drifting wide.
At that stage, one goal looked likely to settle the tie, only when it arrived, Fiorentina hit back within minutes.
The selection of Emerson at left-back was a bold call by Moyes, with Aaron Cresswell having re-established himself as first-choice in the final months of the season. The logic was sound, the Italian’s Serie A know-how and extra pace against the sparky Nicolas Gonzalez swaying the vote the former Chelsea man’s way. Ultimately, though, it backfired, Emerson beaten in the air as Gonzalez knocked down to Bonaventura, whose quick touch and finish were exquisite.
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