The opportunity was there. If West Ham had won, they would have finished sixth, guaranteeing another season in the Europa League and relegating Manchester United to the Europa Conference League.
So David Moyes’s delightful campaign closes on a slightly sad note, pondering what it could have been. Still, Europe is Europe, and that is what West Ham will face.
In 2022–23, there will be new cities to invade, town squares to seize, and streets to turn claret and blue. West Ham fans will gladly accept a second season of European football, even if it isn’t in the competition where they left off after losing in the semi-finals to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Reaching the final phases of the competition and finishing eighth is no minor feat. While Moyes and his team gave it their all, and amid the disappointment of this setback, we must remember that this was Mark Noble’s final game as a professional footballer.
There was a presentation for Noble before the game began. Brighton presented the retiring club captain with a gong and a bottle of champagne before the game. A thoughtful gesture from a thoughtful club.
It would be erroneous to believe that Brighton came here with nothing to play for. They knew that if they win, they might finish eighth. If they lose, they might finish 14th.
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The difference in prize money between those two spots is expected to be £16 million—not a little coin for a club like Brighton.
That would be sufficient to sign another Marc Cucurella, the 23-year-old left winger coveted by Manchester City this summer. With this possibly being his final farewell to the Amex Stadium, he was featured on the front cover of the matchday programme.
West Ham knew they wouldn’t have it easy at the Amex because Cucurella is one of several outstanding players under Potter. Brighton have also been a thorny opponent for them in the Premier League. They hadn’t beaten the Seagulls in nine attempts, but they needed to win here to obtain what they wanted.
The news that Manchester United had lost at Crystal Palace came after 37 minutes. The visiting fans abruptly turned up the volume, seeking to alert their players. West Ham had been passing the ball well but had yet to hit the target.
That all changed in the 39th minute, when the away end became a tangle of limbs. Michail Antonio was discovered by Vladimir Coufal’s throw-in, who muscled off the opponents. He flicked his left foot at the ball as it settled, sumptuously striking the top corner and beating Robert Sanchez. His previous 55 Premier League goals had all come from inside the box.
It’s not a bad moment to catch your first fish from the outside. Brighton claimed that Antonio had shoved Lewis Dunk off the ball unfairly during the build-up. He hadn’t done so. He was simply too powerful, and the aim was worthwhile.
West Ham had won 1-0, whereas Manchester United had lost 1-0. The away crowd was now singing about “going on a European tour.” If the outcomes remained the same in the Europa League, But a lot can happen in a football half. Brighton manager Graham Potter introduced Neal Maupay, who put Lukasz Fabianski under pressure after just two minutes. Whatever Potter said at halftime was effective.
Whatever Potter said at halftime was effective. Brighton were ahead, and it was 1-1 in the 50th minute when Joel Veltman slipped his shot under Fabianski’s body. When watching the replays, the West Ham goalkeeper, as well as Moyes, would be frustrated by Antonio’s failure to track Veltman.
It was suddenly all Brighton, and Danny Welbeck should have scored after breaking through to the left side of the box. He fired wide because the angle was too close.
Brighton took the lead as the clock struck 80. Pascal Gross was passed the ball, which he controlled with his right hand before turning and shooting with his left. A nice touch. West Ham’s woes worsened in the 90th minute as Welbeck headed in a corner for 3-1.
In order to make his final appearance for his favorite club, Noble was introduced. He was greeted with a resounding reception, with supporters on both sides acknowledging the conclusion of a long and committed career.
There was a humorous moment when Maupay eventually received a yellow card after repeated fouls. West Ham fans responded with sarcastic cheers, and he responded by signaling the scoreline with his fingers and urging the away end to quiet down.
They, in turn, sang of embarking on a European tour. They are, and despite being in the Europa Conference League, they will throw a party.