James Ward-Prowse issues West Ham rallying call after Europa League exit

James Ward-Prowse issues West Ham rallying call after Europa League exit

James Ward-Prowse has urged his West Ham teammates to ensure Thursday night’s heroic exit to Bayer Leverkusen does not mark the end of their European adventure.

Having been outclassed in a 2-0 defeat in in Germany last week, the Hammers went into the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final with it all to do but threatened a famous comeback during a spirited show at the London Stadium.

Michail Antonio’s header on 13 minutes breathed fresh life into the tie and David Moyes’s side came close on several occasions to the second goal which would have forced extra-time, before substitute Jeremie Frimpong’s late deflected strike finally put Leverkusen nerves at rest.

“We knew an early goal would be important but we weren't quite able to build on that,” Ward-Prowse said. “I thought we were fantastic up until the hour-mark and then you could just see the energy levels start to drop.

“The atmosphere was incredible and I think we played a huge part in that in giving the fans something to thrive off. It was a special night but unfortunately we could quite get it done towards the end.”

A 3-1 aggregate defeat spells the end of West Ham’s third successive European campaign and heading into the final stretch of the Premier League season, Moyes’s side must rouse themselves if they are to make it a fourth.

The Hammers sit eighth in the table ahead of Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace, but are conceding at least one game in hand to each of their rivals and still have the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and a resurgent Chelsea to play across their final five games.

"The club’s proven over the years that it deserves to be on the European stage,” Ward-Prowse said. “Now it’s up to us as players to deliver that, there’s no reason why we can’t.

“You look around the changing room, we’ve got world-class players in there, so it’s up to us to deliver that for the fans and for the club.

“Tonight was a special occasion and it gives us incentive to have more nights like this next season.”

West Ham’s exit also brings the looming decision over Moyes’s future into sharper focus. The 60-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and has said he will wait until the summer to address the situation, but Ward-Prowse insists West Ham’s players cannot let speculation and uncertainty become a distraction during the run-in.

Moyes is out of contract at West Ham this summer (John Walton/PA Wire)
Moyes is out of contract at West Ham this summer (John Walton/PA Wire)

“I think he’s done an incredible job,” the midfielder added. “All I can say from this season is that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with him. We’re obviously unsure as to what’s going to happen but we’re focusing on making sure we finish the season as strong as we can.

“For us, the next few games will decide where we are next season so it’s important that we focus on them.”

Meanwhile, striker Antonio tore into referee Jose Maria Sanchez after the Spaniard’s dismal performance.

Sanchez dished out ten yellow cards in an increasingly tempestuous affair, as well as a pair of reds to members of either side’s coaching staff, and left Moyes furious with a series of erroneous decisions during the second-half.

“It doesn't feel like you're playing against 11 men,” Antonio said. "It feels like you're playing against 14 including the two linesmen.”