David Moyes has told his West Ham players to “embrace and enjoy” their European adventure after they took a huge step towards the Europa Conference League quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory over AEK Larnaca.
The Hammers are enduring a torrid Premier League campaign and are just one point of the relegation zone, but picked up where they left off before Christmas with a ninth successive victory in Uefa competition this season.
Michail Antonio’s first-half double means that, barring a remarkable away performance from the Cypriot outfit at the London Stadium next week, the Irons will have reached successive quarter-finals in Europe for the first time since 1966, having gone on to the last-four of the Europa League last term.
“My motivation was to say [to the players] that not many players or managers get to the quarter-final of European competitions in back-to-back seasons,” Moyes said.
“That’s the first thing we have to try and do and we still have a big job to do next week. For West Ham to try and get to back-to-back quarter-finals - and I’m not being in anyway presumptuous or taking anything for granted, we have to work to get there - it’s not a bad achievement.
“We need to embrace it and enjoy it. There’s something different, even in a small stadium, about a European night. Something just has a different feel about it, it’s a great thrill to be involved in this level of competition. I’m hoping we can keep it going.”
Moyes held special praise for Antonio, who has struggled for goals this season and is facing increased competition following the arrivals of Gianluca Scamacca and Danny Ings.
The Jamaican was criticised in the wake of last week’s FA Cup defeat at Manchester United having missed two glaring opportunities, but rewarded his manager’s faith with a fine header and stunning curling effort from 20 yards.
“I’m glad he has [got that in him], because we needed that tonight,” Moyes added. “I think it will do Mick’s confidence the world of good. Getting goals this season has not been easy for him. We need him.
“He’s such an important player for us. And we need goals at the club. We’ve brought in Danny, and there’s competition now. Let’s hope it pushes them all on to score more goals.”