Bayer Leverkusen late show leaves West Ham with Europa League mountain to climb

Dejected: West Ham face a tall order to try and overturn a 2-0 deficit against Bayer Leverkusen next week (REUTERS)
Dejected: West Ham face a tall order to try and overturn a 2-0 deficit against Bayer Leverkusen next week (REUTERS)

Bayer Leverkusen produced another stunning Europa League late show to break West Ham’s hearts and take a big step towards the semi-finals of the competition.

The Bundesliga champions-elect dominated Thursday night’s home last-eight first-leg clash, but were frustrated for long periods by a dogged and determined defensive effort from David Moyes’ men that looked set to secure a valuable draw to take back to the London Stadium for next week’s decider.

However, as they have so often throughout a remarkable unbeaten season to date that has them on track for a potential trophy treble, Leverkusen rallied themselves late on with goals from Jonas Hofmann and fit-again striker Victor Boniface as Xabi Alonso’s substitutions worked to perfection.

The hosts, who can seal their first-ever Bundesliga title at the weekend and are also through to next month’s German Cup final, stretched their extraordinary undefeated run to 42 matches across all competitions as their fairytale campaign continued unabated, with echos of their remarkable last-ditch comeback against Qarabag in the last-16.

Meanwhile, West Ham’s misery was compounded by yellow cards received at BayArena by Lucas Paqueta and Emerson Palmieri, both of whom will now miss next week’s second leg, with star man Jarrod Bowen already a doubt after missing Thursday’s game with a knee injury suffered in the weekend Premier League win at Wolves.

Relentlessly attack-minded Leverkusen produced a total of 18 shots and enjoyed 76 per cent possession in a thoroughly one-sided first half, but found Lukasz Fabianski in inspired form as the veteran goalkeeper pulled off a string of fine saves to deny the likes of Patrik Schick, Florian Wirtz and Amine Adli.

Arguably the best chance of the first half actually fell to West Ham, though, with Michail Antonio - drafted back into the starting XI in place of Bowen as Aaron Cresswell also replaced the suspended Edson Alvarez as Moyes opted for a five-man defence to try and combat Leverkusen’s star wing-backs - bursting past Jonathan Tah before his early squared pass was swept straight into the arms of a grateful Matej Kovar by Mohammed Kudus.

Leverkusen, who made seven changes from their weekend win at Union Berlin and were without Czech forward Adam Hlozek, felt the hot-headed Paqueta should have been sent off for a wild swipe on Adli that sparked a furious melee, but he received only a caution that means he will not be available for the second leg.

Paqueta made a late challenge on Wirtz shortly after being booked as he walked a disciplinary tightrope early on, while West Ham appealed in vain for a penalty as Tah wrestled with Antonio as the latter tried to connect with a Kudus cross.

Though still totally dominant, Leverkusen were struggling to create clear-cut chances after the interval as West Ham continued to dig in impressively, though Fabianski made his best stop of the night when a one-handed save tipped Schick’s clever front-post header over the crossbar.

Alonso made a pair of double changes to try and finally break the deadlock, getting his reward when German international Hofmann volleyed through a crowd of bodies and in with just over five minutes to play after West Ham captain Kurt Zouma had initially made a fine block to thwart Boniface following a corner.

West Ham were despondent at their fierce resolve finally being broken with time running out, but knew they could not afford to concede a second goal during a frantic finish to the game.

Substitute Nayef Aguerd - who replaced the injured Konstantinos Mavropanos late on - made one initial block followed by two from Tomas Soucek including one off the line, but try as they might the Hammers could not keep the deficit to one goal as a Hofmann cross in stoppage time was headed home by Boniface.