West Ham bow out of Europa League with fighting spirit after heartbreaking Leverkusen draw

West Ham United watched as their Europa League dream crashed and burned after a 1-1 draw against Bayer Leverkusen despite giving the newly crowned Bundesliga champions a run for their money at London Stadium.

The Hammers faced a tall order as they looked to overcome the only unbeaten side in Europe’s top five leagues despite a two-goal deficit from the first leg.

However, they made sure their fate was firmly in their control after a fast start that saw Michail Antonio slot home a tantalising inverted cross from Jarrod Bowen, who passed a late fitness test for the mouth-watering contest.

Antonio’s goal had David Moyes’ side dreaming of not only ending Leverkusen’s remarkable unbeaten run but also reaching a possible third European semi-final in as many years.

Spurred on by the fervent home support, West Ham continued to look dangerous in the final third, and Bowen came close to restoring parity but was denied by the feet of Matej Kovar from point-blank range.

West Ham seemed more likely to level the tie with every foray forward, forcing Xabi Alonso into an early defensive change.

Tensions escalated between the benches shortly after, resulting in a red card for both West Ham’s Billy McKinlay and Leverkusen’s Sebastian Parrilla, but the Hammers maintained their momentum.

Edson Alvarez’s goal-bound effort took a deflection off Antonio, while Bowen’s follow-up drew a comfortable save from Kovar. 

A raucous home crowd was firmly behind the Hammers, who went into the interval on the front foot, and Moyes would have demanded more of the same.

West Ham came agonisingly close to levelling the tie when Bowen pounced on a loose ball, but his shot across goal evaded the calvary and went begging. 

Leverkusen soon began to find their groove, and West Ham were offered a massive reprieve when Jeremie Frimpong skied a glorious chance to seal the tie for Leverkusen.

The Hammers pushed for a second, but they were eventually left devastated when Frimpong’s deflected effort levelled matters on the night and 3-1 on aggregate to end West Ham’s European dream.

Despite the final result, West Ham’s performance deserves applause. 

Underdogs against a team celebrating their Bundesliga triumph just days before, they showcased their fighting spirit and can bow out with their heads held high.

They must now turn their attention to the Premier League run-in with a place in the Europa League up for grabs, which would be a fitting end to Moyes’ hugely successful spell as Hammers gaffer.