West Ham 3-1 TSC Backa Topola: Mohammed Kudus repays faith as David Moyes’ side survive Europa League scare

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Mohammed Kudus had to wait until after the international break for his first start for West Ham, but the £38million signing from Ajax was more than ready when it finally arrived.

David Moyes felt West Ham’s Europa League opener was the right time to throw the Ghanaian into his starting line-up for the first time. On a still evening at the London Stadium, Kudus duly repaid that faith.

His second-half header earned the Hammers victory over Serbian league leaders TSC Backa Topola before one from Tomas Soucek added gloss to the eventual 3-1 scoreline.

So many will have heard that West Ham’s Europa League opener was against TSC Backa Topola, promptly googled them, and then pondered the margin of the Hammers’ inevitably handsome victory. A straightforward night to ease them in? Not so.

A blizzard of West Ham chances in the first half gave them consistently good but never great sights of goal, and there was a distinct lack of energy in this vast domed stadium when referee Filip Glova’s whistle blew for half-time at 0-0. No panic.

Drama worth sticking around for was coming, and it was coming soon. Just one minute and 55 seconds into the second half, Angelo Ogbonna dawdled on the ball in a way only explainable if it were the case he had simply forgotten the ball was at his feet.

Petar Stanic could not believe his luck, stole in, and ran through on goal before slotting coolly past Lukasz Fabianski.

The celebrations among the TSC players told the story of their journey: a club who nine years ago were in Serbia’s third tier, and are not even the biggest club from the northern province of Vojvodina, 20 miles from the Hungarian border.

But their lead lasted just 18 minutes, before Kudus forced an own goal from Nemanja Petrovic.

Kudus had a goal of his own to savour from James Ward-Prowse’s typically sumptuous corner delivery soon after. And for the West Ham supporters, who had by now livened up, there was a third goal to celebrate when late substitute Soucek took advantage of another deadly delivery from Ward-Prowse.