West Ham are just one game away from ending their 43-year trophy drought after they beat AZ Alkmaar 1-0 and reached the Europa Conference League final.
Substitute Pablo Fornals scored the winner in added time and caused ugliness at the final whistle as West Ham players and coaching staff tried to stop AZ’s Ultras from attacking away fans behind the dugout.
It was a shameful end to a hard-fought performance by the Hammers, who clinched a 3-1 win on aggregate.
A year earlier, West Ham had lost track at the same stage of the Europa League when they were eliminated at Eintracht Frankfurt after Aaron Creswell was sent off and David Moyes fired a ball at a ball boy.
But this time West Ham kept their composure and no ball children were harmed as they secured a first European final in 47 years in Prague on 7 June and a chance at their first silver medal since the 1980 FA Cup.
Despite the less illustrious opposition, it was no easy task. AZ have a phenomenal home record in Europe, unbeaten in their last 25 games and losing just once to an English side here – Moyes’ Everton in 2007, ending a 32-game unbeaten run.
Since then, Manchester United, Arsenal, Valencia and Lazio have all tried to win at the AFAS Stadium – and failed. The site is such a fortress that it is even surrounded by a moat.
West Ham’s 2-1 lead from the first leg always looked paltry, especially when AZ striker Jesper Karlsson’s shot was deflected just a minute from time.
But West Ham, cheered on by former striker Andy Carroll away, kept their nerve and allowed AZ to keep possession and play in front of them while also trying to capitalize on the break.
Thilo Kehrer began to enjoy himself on the right and when his cross was headed away by Michail Antonio it landed on Jarrod Bowen who shot wide.
Lucas Paqueta twice tried to put Antonio on target, the first time from a 40-yard run down the field, but twice the pass went too long.
Still, the Brazilian was slowly making his mark on the game, and upon receiving the ball from Antonio, he sliced inside with his left foot and his curvaceous shot from the edge of the box just brushed the far post.
West Ham’s hearts beat faster before the break, however, when a low cross from Milos Kerkez rolled menacingly across the six-yard box before the half was cleared and Vangelis Pavlidis’ follow-up shot deflected wide.
Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had little to do in the first half but was put to the test early in the second half, stopping a shot from Sven Mijnans before deflecting a Pavlidis shot over the top and saved by Pantelis Hatzidiakos.
So did homekeeper Mathew Ryan, who then had to fend off a 20-yard drive from Declan Rice.
West Ham ran afoul of some of Europe’s dark arts last season but here they held their own; Tomas Soucek and Kehrer were both cautioned for wasting time on throw-ins.
As the clock ran out, Nayef Aguerd took the chance to decide the tie, but in added time Fornals broke a tiring AZ defense and shot the ball past Ryan in front of the 900 or so enthusiastic fans who had traveled with them.
Moyes, Rice and others then had to jump over billboards trying to stop the hooligans attacking West Ham’s Friends and Family area behind the dugout.
It wasn’t a pretty ending but when the dust settles Rice, who will leave West Ham this summer, will know he now has the chance to be the only captains alongside Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds to scoop a major trophy could win for the club and what a parting gift that would be.