So our Europa League journey has finally come to an end – Were you disappointed how it came to an end?
Meirion Williams: I believe we lost the tie in that first leg as it was always going to be difficult getting a result in Frankfurt. The sending off turned the tie on its head and it was a near impossibility after that. I’m not that disappointed if I’m honest as that second leg showed the West Ham fighting spirit. What I am disappointed in is the lack of investment meant we had to sacrifice our league position and a return to the Europa League next season.
David Meagher: It’s been a blast! Lots of exciting evenings and in all fairness our boys have done themselves proud. I was sceptical about the merits of the Europa League but I am converted and would gladly take more of the same next year. We need to put our heads down for the remaining games and keep Wolves from the door. I really hope the squad doesn’t fragment now but it’s a real risk as we transition to the Kretinsky era. We have got a taste of European football and expectations for more will be high.
Geoff Hillyer: How could you not be disappointed? Such an opportunity for the club – players and manager – and it’s gone. I wonder when the next time will be when we have such an opportunity. It’s still been a great campaign and I’m proud of the players, but it’s really hard not to feel really sad about the way it turned out.
Jake Gill: The result is devastating and is such a tough one to process right now. It was a 46 year wait for us to make it this far in Europe once again, so it feels like an opportunity missed – the next time we get to this stage may be a long wait. I felt that Frankfurt had a game plan that stifled our creativity completely in the first leg, but I’d hoped beyond hope that we would find a way through in the second leg. It wasn’t meant to be, I’m proud of the players and just gutted that after all our efforts, it had to end like that.
Aaron Cresswell. Sent off against Lyon and Frankfurt. How much does he need to shoulder the blame for the semi final defeat?
MW: Cresswell didn’t get sent off on purpose but of course he should have known better. It’s a team game and he was left exposed. He should have learnt from the Lyon game that any such tackle would risk a booking at the minimum. I have to give some credit to the referee who seemed as if he didn’t want to send Aaron off and destroy the tie as a competition. VAR forced his hand. Investment was the biggest problem as the team were down on their feet. The commentators on television kept referring to West Ham having such a small squad and it’s that I blame more than Cresswell. But as I said earlier, of course, he should have known better.
DM: For sure he should have been smarter but he opted to try to hack the ball away and was muscled off it and held on. It was a pretty intense atmosphere and passions were high. We looked to be on top of things before that. In reality, we were outsmarted by a team of similar calibre and tactics – the key moments just didn’t fall our way and their goalkeeper (and the woodwork) were the difference. As far as the bigger picture goes, competing in four competitions with one recognised striker is nonsensical and was always going to catch up on us.
GH: It’s not like he meant to get sent off so I imagine he felt as awful as the rest of us about it, if not worse. Some of what I’ve read online about him is out of order – he’s human. That said, I mean, he didn’t appear to learn from his mistake against Lyon. It’s not all down to him, I think the players were exhausted, with not enough squad depth, but if it wasn’t already, the game was lost at that point.
JG: It completely killed the tie for us, we were already facing an uphill battle as it was, but going down to 10 men and then conceding shortly after was the final nail in the coffin. Of course Cresswell should’ve known better, especially after he was sent off for a very similar incident against Lyon, but he will have all of this on his mind already and I’m sure he is criticising his challenge more than any fan is. He’s been a loyal player for us since his arrival from Ipswich and is one of the most likeable members of the squad, I hope the supporters can get behind him and move on from this mistake. Some of the abuse I’ve seen towards him online is disgraceful, I know we were all disappointed and things may have been said in the heat of the moment, but that’s not what this club is about.
Have you been disappointed with our league form since our win against Sevilla – we’ve lost to Spurs, Brentford, Chelsea and Arsenal. Or was it to be expected with our Europa League distraction?
MW: Yes and no. It was clear that the league was going to be tough this season and we were playing above ourselves. Europa had to take precedence. A win and you are in the Champions League. It is frustrating to see all those dropped points particularly as we are now out of the Europa League but I feel it was the right decision. It still hurts though to drop all those points particularly as they were against London teams.
DM: We have really struggled in the latter part of games as, apart from Benrahma, we have a limited bench and inevitably falter when fresh legs and/or a gamechanger are needed. We were well off the pace against Brentford and Spurs but unlucky against Arsenal and Chelsea. Obviously, the Europa League had to take precedence but that was a gamble that has not paid off. We are still in the running for a European spot for next year so really we can’t complain too much.
GH: To be expected I think. It is alarming though, I haven’t seen a form table but if I did since the turn of the year, we are really struggling for form and have been for a while. Moyes has got a big job on his hands now, he needs to ensure the players are ready for the challenges of the remainder of this, and next season.
JG: Our league form has been poor of late, in part because of our lack of squad depth and the fact that we’ve prioritised the Europa League. We seem to be heading towards the nightmare scenario of being dumped out of the Europa League, with a realistic chance that we fail to qualify for Europe altogether next season. I really hope that Moyes and the team can clear their heads and push to secure European football once again, so much rides on consistently qualifying for Europe in order to attract the best players to the club.
Would you like to see us now qualify for the UEFA Conference League?
MW: Absolutely. It’s a must and I think we can do it. The European adventure must not end and this season has shown that we love a European night of football. The Conference League also this year had some great teams in it so I would certainly welcome that as a consolation prize.
DM: Yes, absolutely but only if we strengthen the squad. Sometimes, football is simply down to numbers and if we don’t, then we will slip back to the bottom half next year if we have European and domestic commitments.
GH: I would say to qualify for a second successive European tournament would be incredible. So in that sense, yes – we’ve had some real adventures this time round. But to make a real go of it, we must add to the squad – otherwise we’ll end up with the same tired squad of players and we’ll be here again next season, and that would be pointless.
JG: I do still hope that we can somehow qualify for the Europa League once again, but I would definitely take the Conference League if not. Our journey this year shows just how competitive we can be on the continent, so I would expect us to enjoy another solid European run if we do qualify for the Conference League. We would just need to make sure to strengthen the squad and bring in more depth to handle the increased fixture list.
How do you think this season will now go down in West Ham history?
MW: A season of near misses which united the club and the fans. We came so close to greatness. Just a little bit of investment in the right areas could have made the difference. I think that now it will stand out as one of the great seasons and particularly the greatest since the move to the rented stadium. But in time I think it will be looked at as a season of what could have been if the purse strings had been loosened in January and in the summer.
DM: The season where we moved to a new level and the start of a thrilling decade of triumph and excitement. In fairness, we have jumped up a level without losing our identity or undermining our financial model for growth. If Kretinsky invests, we can push on. This has been our second brilliant season in a row – that’s a rarity at West Ham.
GH: I think when we look back over the summer, we can say that we’ve had some amazing moments in what has been a campaign high on great memories. Ultimately, of course, we’ve scored less points than last time out and won nothing, although our Europa League exploits somewhat mitigate that. But it’s still been one of the best seasons I can remember.
JG: This season has felt like the beginning of a new West Ham, one that is pushing for something more. In my lifetime, I’ve not often gone into any game against any club feeling as though we could take something from it, but under Moyes, I do believe anything is possible. As long as we get the right players in during the summer window and can hold onto top players like Rice and Bowen for next season, I have every reason to believe that we can push for a top four or top six place again.
What do you make of Fulham and Bournemouth returning to the Premier League? Which of the playoff sides do you think will join them?
MW: The Championship seems to be a yo-yo league. It’s great to see these two return, particularly Fulham as we have a good record at Craven Cottage. Bournemouth, on the other hand, will be difficult and will inevitably be a challenge again for away tickets due to the size of their ground. As for that third team, I hope it’s not Luton or Sheffield, and Huddersfield is a long trip for us Hammers. Forest, who seem to have sneaked up on everyone, is a great away trip, two hours from home, I know where to park and there’s a great chip shop right by the ground. So selfishly Forest please.
DM: I think that both Fulham and Bournemouth will struggle. Mitrovic’s remarkable scoring record says it all about the standard of the Championship. I’m of the age where you are prone to a nostalgic fondness for Huddersfield Town. Forest are a great club – so pretty much anyone except the whinging Blades.
GH: I’m pleased to see them back, they are both football-playing sides and I think they should be some good games to watch next season. Hopefully a few wins for us too in our four matches. As for the other side to join them, I like the look of Nottingham Forest and their return to the top league would be fantastic.
JG: Fulham have looked absolutely top drawer this season and I think they will come up with all the confidence in the world. If Mitrovic keeps firing them in, then they will have a very solid season back in the Premier League. I had hoped that Nottingham Forest would’ve pipped Bournemouth to second, mostly because it gets boring to have the same teams come up and down every year. I managed to see them earlier in the season against Reading – they’re a great club with some excellent young players, a few of which Moyes and Newman should be keeping tabs on. A few of my friends and family support Luton Town, so it would also be great to see them come up to the Premier League through the play-offs, especially considering they were in the Conference less than 10 years ago.