West Ham keep Europa League qualification hopes alive after eight-goal Manchester United swing

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Back on track: West Ham breezed past relegated Norwich at Carrow Road  (Getty Images)
Back on track: West Ham breezed past relegated Norwich at Carrow Road (Getty Images)

West Ham fans did not take long to amend their David Moyes song after their Europa League dream was ended in Frankfurt last week, singing all through yesterday’s thumping win over Norwich of a plan, with Zouma at the back and Bowen in attack, to win the Conference League.

But after this weekend’s Premier League results, it may well be that they’ve jumped the gun in predicting a campaign in Uefa’s third-tier competition next season.

Victory for the Hammers saw them close the gap on Manchester United in sixth to just three points having played a game fewer and, potentially crucially, a 4-0 scoreline - the same as Ralf Rangnick’s side were humiliated by at Brighton on Saturday - rounded off an eight-goal swing that leaves goal difference decidedly in Moyes’ side’s favour.

Even with the rather daunting caveat that their game in hand comes at home to leaders Manchester City next Sunday, West Ham will be in contention to overhaul United and steal the final Europa League spot on the final day, when they themselves travel to Brighton, while the incumbents visit Crystal Palace.

The possibility of matching last season’s finishing position looked to have gone given West Ham had taken just one point from four games ahead of the trip to Carrow Road, a run during which Moyes had unashamedly and understandably been hurling all of his eggs into the Europa League basket.

But such is the sub-par standard of this year’s race (a 61-point haul, the maximum either of the Uniteds could achieve, would be the second-lowest for a sixth-placed team in the last decade) that a single victory over a hapless and already relegated Canaries side has catapulted the Hammers right back into the picture.

In status terms, qualifying for the second-tier competition would be of far more importance to Man United, who would be on a hiding to nothing in the Conference League, as Tottenham were this year. And you can be sure that Erik ten Hag would not say no to having two potential routes back into the Champions League either.

In the Dutchman’s first season in charge, after what is expected to be a significant summer of overhaul, it may be that a cup run proves easier to manufacture than the consistency required to finish in the top four.

Manchester United were humiliated 4-0 by Brighton, and have only one game left this season (AFP via Getty Images)
Manchester United were humiliated 4-0 by Brighton, and have only one game left this season (AFP via Getty Images)

It goes without saying that West Ham would rather be in the competition they came so close to reaching the final of this term, too, but securing a second consecutive season in Europe, at any level, would still represent a successful campaign for a squad hardly equipped for the rigours of playing twice-a-week all season long and significant progress towards Moyes’ aim of making the club a regular continental presence.

“We’ve got to try,” Moyes said yesterday. “Let’s be fair, we’ve got Manchester City and Brighton, they’re not easy, Brighton have just beaten Manchester United.

“That’s why I thought today was really important to get the three points and we’re back in it, back in fighting, back in trying to be sixth or seventh with a bit of luck and hopefully we’ll be back in Europe.”

The fans, you sense, are simply desperate for another European adventure, the name of the tournament on their tickets of secondary importance. By the time they come to setting off in the autumn, the songbook may have had another re-write.

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