By Andy Sims, PA, Larnaca
Michail Antonio scored twice as West Ham put their domestic strife behind them with a 2-0 victory over AEK Larnaca in the Europa Conference League.
The Hammers might be toiling in the Premier League, but they are making short work of Europe’s third-tier competition after seven wins from seven matches.
David Moyes’ side left wintry London to take in warmer climes on the back of a sorry 4-0 defeat at Brighton which prompted the away fans to turn on the under-pressure manager.
We bring a two-goal lead back to London Stadium thanks to Antonio’s brace 🤝 pic.twitter.com/9x0xW0mni4
— West Ham United (@WestHam) March 9, 2023
But, after a day of sunshine and beer, the travelling support were in a far less mutinous mood on the Cyprus coast.
Larnaca were backed by raucous home following of 8,000 in a quaint stadium decked out in green and yellow, like a boisterous Carrow Road.
There was a distinct pre-season friendly feel to the last-16 first-leg encounter.
At one point a cat threatened to invade the pitch but, perhaps mindful that Kurt Zouma was back in the West Ham team, it changed its mind and ran off.
Moyes made seven changes from the Brighton debacle, yet despite the apparent gulf in class West Ham still found themselves under pressure in a nervy first half, with the minnows forcing three corners in quick succession.
Rafael Lopes headed one of them narrowly over before Gustavo Ledes fired too high from the edge of the box.
But West Ham eventually took control, with Manuel Lanzini’s shot flying just wide before Said Benrahma’s effort, after a mazy run into the box, was held by home goalkeeper Kenan Piric.
They made the breakthrough in the 36th minute, Benrahma twisting and turning down the left again before crossing for Antonio to head home.
Antonio added a superb second in first-half stoppage time, controlling Declan Rice’s pass before looking up and curling the ball into the top corner from 20 yards.
The striker could have completed a perfect hat-trick after the break when he was teed up by Benrahma, but his left-footed shot came back off the inside of the near post and rolled across goal.
Lucas Paqueta should have added a late third after he was sent through by fellow substitute Maxwel Cornet, but Piric made a fine save.
Nevertheless, the second leg at the London Stadium next week should be a formality, while first it is back to the day job for West Ham and a crucial meeting with Aston Villa on Sunday.