SARANSK, Russia — West Ham United’s road trip to Russia has included a quick stop in Crimea to play a Europa League warm-up game behind closed doors. But captain Mark Noble said the trip to face Rapid Vienna on Thursday was a complete success and that it was a “fantastic” night.
“Obviously we knew it was going to be behind closed doors but it was a fantastic evening,” Noble told reporters after the match. “I think there were 150 supporters with us when we arrived this morning and of course we kept it quiet but, after half-time, we knew it was going to be a good atmosphere.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos made his first trip to the tournament and showed his keenness to get around the tournament with a trip to the stadium and even stayed behind to take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I was feeling very proud for these guys. I got to know the city, the spirit of the people, the people of Saransk and this stadium as well,” Santos said. “The games have been very tactical, very competitive and they have been played very well. They are already 2-0 up and it would be difficult for us but I was very happy to see these players play so well today.”
Goalkeeper Joe Hart returned to West Ham after making himself available to an MLS club as he looked to resume his career elsewhere after the interest from the Los Angeles Galaxy was dropped. And Hart reflected on West Ham’s performance.
“I thought it was a very good performance. In my eyes it was a proper quality performance,” Hart said. “There were some nice touches. For me, in terms of tempo, I think we could have played even better than we did. I think we were probably the better team by a mile. We stuck to our game plan. We got the ball down and went forward, and they’re a difficult side to play against in any conditions. But I thought we did fantastically.”
West Ham manager David Moyes saw his side maintain its good form, especially during a second half performance where the Hammers looked very impressive. But Moyes doesn’t believe his side can let up now.
“I don’t think there’s anything to lose,” Moyes said. “We can’t go into the game thinking ‘oh, we’ve won and it’s all over now,’ I think we have to stay focused. It’s always difficult to do that. You go into any game thinking ‘why are we going in there?’ But in many respects this one will be harder for us than the two teams we’ve got because it’s at the Bratislava Arena and the way they play, it’s so hard to play. They’ve got quick players who are all creative and their full backs are good with the ball, so we’ve got to be careful.”
Also, defensively, West Ham failed to clear quickly enough, allowing Rapid to pressure the home side and break through midway through the second half. Nuno Gomes’ side scored twice after falling behind, though Nilmar was prevented from finding the target in the first half.
Gordon could have given West Ham the advantage after he put the Hammers ahead in the first half, but the Brazil midfielder fired over the bar when he should have done better.
And West Ham could have had more than one goal but with two goalkeepers on the pitch, Darren Randolph shot the ball straight at the side of the net from close range.
And how did Harry Maguire feel about saving the Shoguns’ first goal?
“After the initial shock of getting a goal, you always want to get the second goal and then you know it’s over. So I kept waiting for the second, but it wasn’t to be,” Maguire said. “It’s obviously disappointing, but if we were to concede it would be more of a stress than I thought.”
Despite failing to match Rapid Vienna’s start, Moyes still thinks his side has a good chance of progressing.
“The two teams were very close, and there were moments during the game where they created chances for their goalkeeper,” Moyes said. “It was never going to be an easy task for us to win, but we’re going into every game believing we can win and we’re going into every game full of confidence and full of belief we can get through. This group of players is good enough to do that.”
— By Sean Kelly, FOX Sports