FCSB 0-3 West Ham: Perfect group stage wrapped up by young stars ahead of Europa Conference League knockouts

 (AP)
(AP)

Six wins out of six, nine academy graduates involved, an entire first-team rested and a just about perfect group stage wrapped up in style for West Ham.

For a game that could hardly have had less riding on it, this trip to Bucharest turned into a satisfying night’s work for David Moyes’ young side, who signed off in Europe until March with a 3-0 win over FCSB.

Qualification and - crucially - top spot in Europa Conference League’s Group B were wrapped up at home to Silkeborg a week ago, a play-off dodged the other side of Christmas and a free-hit earned this.

Moyes used it to hand full debuts to 18-year-old striker Divin Mubama, denied a dream goal by the dubious goals jobsworths, and the extremely impressive Ollie Scarles, who, at 16, became the sixth-youngest player in the club’s history.

A year ago, in similar circumstances in the Europa League, Moyes had blooded a host of youngsters in a home dead-rubber against Dinamo Zagreb and on the road in Romania was not quite so cavalier, from the outset at least, surrounding his fledglings with a smattering of experienced squad members, including Pablo Fornals, who scored twice on his 150th appearance for the club, before sending on a fresh wave of kids late on.

Unlike against Zagreb, experimentation came at no cost against a poor FCSB side already consigned to the bottom of the group after a torrid campaign and with half-an-eye on the weekend’s derby against Rapid Bucharest.

Scarles was the pick of the young bunch, slotting in seamlessly to a left-wing-back role and almost setting up what would have been a perfectly scripted opener for Hammers U21 teammate Mubama, only for the striker to be denied at close-quarters by Ștefan Târnovanu in the home goal.

Flynn Downes, the only survivor from Sunday’s starting XI at Old Trafford went close soon after, Tarnovanu making an even sharper save as the midfielder tried cutely to find the corner from Fornals’ cross.

Only a month or two ago, this competition was giving Downes his only chances to stake a claim following his summer arrival from Championship side Swansea but suddenly he feels part of the furniture, running the show in an advanced role here.

Summer signing Nayef Aguerd, who only made his own debut against Silkeborg seven days ago after suffering an ankle injury in preseason, again oozed class (albeit, again, against limited opposition), impressing with his range of passing and inches away from opening his account with a header that was first deflected and then just about cleared off the line.

In the end, the goal was made by an academy graduate with more established credentials as Ben Johnson’s ball from deep set Fornals in behind to guide a terrific early finish home. No one has played more European matches for the club than Fornals, but this was his first goal on the continent and one fortunate to stand, given VAR would have ruled it out for offside had it been in use.

The lead was doubled after the break when Vladimir Coufal’s cross was nodded back across goal by Mubama and ricocheted in of Joyskim Dawa. Mubama celebrated wildly, mobbed by a swathe of academy peers off the bench near the corner flag, and could at least revel in the moment before replays showed his effort had been drifting wide.

Scarles’ threat had been persistent down the left and his ball eventually created Fornals’ second, which was the cue for Moyes to lower the average age of his XI significantly with five substitutions all made in the Academy of Football.