West Ham understudies fall flat as David Moyes selection gamble fails to pay off against Olympiacos

West Ham were beaten in Europe for the first time in almost 18 months (AP)
West Ham were beaten in Europe for the first time in almost 18 months (AP)

“Tonight you dine in hell,” read the giant tifo display that greeted West Ham’s players as they emerged here at the Georgios Karaiskakis and for David Moyes, trips to this particular neck of the woods must be taking on a certain tortuous feel.

It was on this ground nine years ago that his Manchester United were beaten 2-0 by Olympiacos in the Champions League on a night that, despite a second-leg turnaround at Old Trafford, is still cited as the beginning of the end for his short-lived regime.

Defeat by a narrower 2-1 scoreline here will have nothing like the same consequences, West Ham still firmly on track to reach the Europa League knockout stage after Christmas, still top of Group A with two home matches and a trip to Serbian novices Backa Topola to come.

Still, though, this was a result that will sting, a skittish performance in hostile surrounds producing the Hammers’ first European loss in almost 18 months and signalling the end of a 17-match unbeaten run in Uefa competition, a record among English clubs that could now be surpassed by Manchester City next month.

Moyes had urged his players to “embrace and enjoy” an occasion that proved every bit as raucous as billed, though thankfully not as riotous as feared, and from the Scot’s furious touchline calls for calm, you sense he felt some were spooked.

Primarily though, this was a selection gamble gone wrong as the Irons made seven changes to his lineup and would surely have planned for an eighth had illness not ruled regular cup goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski out of action late in the day.

Clearly, Moyes had half an eye on Sunday’s Premier League meeting with his former club Everton, a game the Hammers must win in order to justify talk of last weekend’s thrashing at Aston Villa as a mere blip, but having challenged his understudies to stake their claims to feature in that game must have been thoroughly underwhelmed with the response.

Nayef Aguerd’s up and down start to the season has prompted murmurings that his shirt could be under threat but neither Konstantinos Mavropanos, loose on home turf, nor Angelo Ogbonna, whose sliced own-goal doubled the home lead on half-time, made much of a case here.

A much-changed West Ham side could not rise to the occasion in Athens (REUTERS)
A much-changed West Ham side could not rise to the occasion in Athens (REUTERS)

An experiment with Said Benrahma in a central No10 role failed to fire, the Algerian’s biggest weapon - his dribbling - negated in a congested area of the pitch, while Danny Ings simply cannot get involved in matches of this nature as a lone striker. From wide on the right, summer signing Mohammed Kudus was the visitors’ liveliest attacking force but even he can have few complaints should his lengthening wait for a first Premier League start extend beyond this weekend.

It was telling that Moyes, not always the swiftest to turn to his bench, had made all five permitted substitutions with 20 minutes still on the clock, the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paqueta among half-a-side sent on in pursuit of a comeback.

In truth, they hardly set this Irons’ performance alight either, but Paqueta provided the one moment of true attacking quality, hammering home on the volley after Michail Antonio’s cross was only half-cleared to set up a lively finish as West Ham belief surged.

If only their start had been not quite so timid.