As Mark Noble prepared to enter the pitch with 14 minutes left he could have been forgiven if his mind had drifted back to all the times when West Ham have been written off as a laughing stock. Noble has experienced his fair share of lows since making his debut 19 years ago and it is unlikely that he ever thought his final season of him as a professional would end up with him two games away from reaching a European final.
But this is West Ham now. This is why their fans think they are massive. David Moyes has lifted them to unthinkable heights and he is far from done. Moyes will not settle for taking West Ham to their first European semi-final since 1976 after this astonishing triumph over Lyon. He will know his side of him are capable of more when they face Eintracht Frankfurt.
West Ham are tough and Lyon could not handle their power. It did not matter that West Ham were without three key defenders. There was a towering performance from Craig Dawson, who scored the opener, and a huge showing from Declan Rice in midfield. West Ham knew they would have to be resilient after drawing the first leg 1-1 last week. There was no place for anyone in claret and blue to hide. Lyon would not allow it. They took their cue from a boisterous home crowd and it was clear that Peter Bosz had sent them out to be aggressive from the start.
It was not long before Lyon, who were boosted by Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar passing late fitness checks, were creating chances. They had paced down the flanks and West Ham were fortunate not to be behind after five minutes. It was too easy for Lyon to play their way through on the left and, when Vladimír Coufal backed off, Karl Toko Ekambi had time to slide a low shot beyond Alphonse Areola, who was relieved to see the ball hit the woodwork.
West Ham were living on the edge. They were rushed into possession and their defense was not inspiring confidence, particularly when they failed to deal with a cross from the right and Lyon appealed for a penalty when Coufal appeared to handle.
It was too frantic from West Ham. It already seemed their defensive injuries were going to count against them. They were without Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna, depriving Moyes of his favored centre-back pairing, while Aaron Cresswell was unavailable at left-back following his controversial red card last week.
Yet Moyes had faith in Dawson and Issa Diop’s partnership in the middle. Diop has been shaky this season and looked nervous when he picked up a booking for tripping Dembele, but the Frenchman soon warmed to his task from him and the chances for Lyon started to dry up.
West Ham began to enjoy themselves. Michail Antonio took the fight to Lyon. The striker was a handful throughout the first half and he almost created the opening goal when he crossed for Jarrod Bowen, who volleyed wide at the far post.
Lyon were wobbling under the high ball. It was an obvious path to goal for West Ham, who were prepared. After 38 minutes Pablo Fornals swung in a corner and Dawson simply wanted it more than Lyon’s defenders. Nobody tracked his run and the centre-back put West Ham ahead on aggregate by powering his header in at the near post.
Lyon looked stunned. There was no response and they cracked again before half-time. Ben Johnson, filling in for Cresswell, crossed from the left and Emerson Palmieri’s poor clearance was collected by Rice on the edge of the area. He took a touch and sent a low shot past Julian Pollersbeck, who was deputizing for the injured Anthony Lopes in goal. Rice ran the length to celebrate with West Ham’s disbelieving traveling support and the home fans fell silent. This was not in the script and Bosz responded at the break by replacing Ndombele and Romain Faivre with Tetê and Lucas Paquetá, who was in the squad despite reportedly testing positive for Covid yesterday morning.
By now, though, West Ham were in their element. Three minutes into the second half they stopped a Lyon attack and countered when Rice, Fornals and Manuel Lanzini calmly played their way out of trouble.
The ball found the tireless Antonio, who held off Jason Denayer and laid the ball off for Fornals to send Bowen racing through with a superb ball. Lyon had completely lost their shape and Bowen coolly punished them, slipping a low finish beyond Pollersbeck.
The tie was over. West Ham were too professional to let go of their lead. Frankfurt are next after stunning Barcelona and West Ham will believe they can go all the way. It was a shame that the night was overshadowed when Lyon’s ultras clashed with security staff after the final whistle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism