David Moyes strives to rescue West Ham’s crumbling season among Greek ruins

Pressure mounting: David Moyes needs to rescue West Ham’s dismal season with time running out (Action Images via Reuters)
Pressure mounting: David Moyes needs to rescue West Ham’s dismal season with time running out (Action Images via Reuters)

The island party resort of Ayia Napa is 20-odd miles round the coast from here, a familiar Promised Land for the young Brit abroad seeking a coming-of-age foam party and a five-euro fishbowl.

Larnaca, though, seems a more fitting stop on West Ham’s drawn-out European tour, David Moyes and his side here among the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Kition, seeking to rescue their crumbling season.

Last week’s FA Cup exit at Old Trafford means the Hammers’ focus is now split between their continental jolly in the Europa Conference League and a battle to avoid a first relegation in 12 years.

In truth, little that Moyes’s side produce at the 8,000-capacity AEK Arena in tonight’s last-16 first leg will do much to paper over the cracks laid bare in Saturday’s 4-0 thumping at Brighton, which leaves the Hammers a point clear of the drop and facing another home must-win against Aston Villa on Sunday.

The nature of match-going fans means many of those who have made the trip to Cyprus will have been among the vocal majority who turned on the manager at the Amex, his team, perhaps for the first time, looking not merely devoid of quality and structure, but any shred of resilience and character, too. Cruelly, those filling the beach-front bars here last night were subjected to a re-run of the lowlights, as if needing a reminder not to be fooled.

A return to Europe, though, ought to provide a lift, even if where last year’s adventure was something of a novel bonus, this season’s feels like the last of Moyes’s trading stock, set against a League campaign that must already be termed an abject failure.

All winter, as the points have failed to arrive in sufficient quantity to steer his team clear of danger, Moyes has pointed to the success of his second tenure in qualifying twice for Europe, but for this competition to offer any semblance of salvation, West Ham’s run must stretch much further, perhaps to the final.

It is just as well, then, that they appear to have a plumb draw. Considering Lazio and Villarreal were possible alternatives, a tie against a side who have never been champions of Cyprus looks kind.

Led by Spanish coach Jose Luis Oltra — who clearly has a thing for package-holiday destinations, having played for Benidorm and managed Tenerife and Mallorca — Larnaca were runners-up in the Cypriot top flight last season and have taken a roundabout route to this fixture, beating Dnipro-1 in a Europa League qualifier, finishing third in the group stage to drop into the Conference, then beating Dnipro-1 again in the first knockout round last month.

West Ham received a bye through that stage after six group wins from six, the same number as they have managed in the League, and the wait to resume a campaign that had provided early-season distraction must now prove worth it.

Rather like those who excavated Kition and revealed an ancient kingdom, Moyes is seeking to rediscover forgotten promise.