West Ham’s players had talked this up as something of an unexpected grudge match, somewhat put out by the extent of Olympiacos’s celebrations following their victory in the reverse fixture in Piraeus a fortnight ago.
Even so, the statement posted to travelling fans on the Greek club’s website ahead of kick-off seemed a little excessive: among the listed items fans were politely advised not bring into the ground were weapons, ammunition, fireworks and explosives.
For 75 minutes, though, this was a game in desperate need of a spark, until at last Lucas Paqueta provided it, a fine cushioned volley breaking the deadlock and a whole-team, Jude Bellingham-esque celebration in front of the away end confirming this was an occasion with a little more than three points on the line, an element of revenge inflicted for the defeat in Greece that cost the Hammers their record unbeaten run.
Assessing the lay of the land at full-time, however, the points look especially handy, too. Drifting towards a drab goalless draw here, and with Freiburg easing to victory against Serbian minnows Backa Topola, West Ham were in danger of ceding control of Europa League group A, a cruise towards another post-Christmas knockout run suddenly with the potential to become a little more sketchy heading into the final two games.
Instead, they head to Serbia themselves knowing victory will secure qualification, though the home meeting with Freiburg next month could yet end up a playoff for top spot and a direct route into the last-16.
Until Paqueta’s goal, the Hammers had not been not bad, but certainly not good either, their best chances a string of Nayef Aguerd headers from James Ward-Prowse corners before half-time, until the Englishman tamely scuffed Jarrod Bowen’s pull-back into the turf when well-placed to score.
Olympiacos were worse, without the spirit of a hostile home crowd behind them a pale imitation of the side that deservedly triumphed in Greece, one that failed to muster a single shot on target and only fleetingly tried to. A first West Ham clean sheet in eight matches will go down as a strong positive for David Moyes, though it was not especially hard-earned.
Beyond frustrations at his own team’s abysmal defending at Brentford last weekend, the Scot had added to the chorus of dissenting managers with the hump about VAR but will have been thankful for it here: initially, Paqueta’s winner was flagged offside, but replays showed the Brazilian clearly on as he finished from Ward-Prowse’s perfect pass and the technology rightly intervened.