The disappointment was too much for West Ham to bear. Even David Moyes had lost control as a demoralizing night deep in the German forest drew to a close. Any thoughts of a heroic comeback had long since passed and, for all that Moyes’s side fought after going down to 10 men, nothing summed up their lack of composure more than the sight of their manager making a lonely trudge down the tunnel after seeing red for losing his cool with a ballboy during the dying stages.
The harsh reality is that West Ham had not done enough to win this Europa League semi-final. For Moyes, who later apologized for booting the ball at a time-wasting local as Eintracht Frankfurt closed in on victory, this stung. More than anything, it was the sense that West Ham could have done more to reach the final. The frustration was immense and in the cold light of day it was hard not to feel that Moyes’s flash of temper owed much to his team’s inability to seize the moment against Frankfurt, who simply managed the details better throughout the tie.
This was a joyous occasion for the hosts, even though their fans invaded the pitch and clashed with the police after the final whistle. This competition seems to suit Oliver Glasner’s side. They have already knocked out Barcelona and although they sit 11th in the Bundesliga, there was much to admire about the way they dealt with their opponents.
All the same, West Ham created their own problems. They let themselves down with a disjointed performance at the London Stadium last week and their hopes of turning it round were all but over after Aaron Cresswell was sent off for a foolish red card with only 19 minutes gone in the second leg.
Moyes had talked about West Ham needing to manage the game. There were also attempts at mind games when he suggested that Frankfurt could struggle to protect their lead from the first leg. Yet this wonderfully atmospheric stadium was bouncing long before kick-off and it was even possible to wonder if it was part of the show when a small fire broke out at the end housing Frankfurt’s Ultras, until a few stewards rushed across to deal with the blaze seven minutes into the game.
It felt like it was going to be that kind of evening. By that stage Frankfurt had already lost the key center-back Martin Hinteregger after he injured a knee due to a challenge from Michail Antonio. It seemed like a big blow for the hosts who rejigged their back three by bringing on Almamy Touré, and at that point the signs were good for West Ham, who started well and enjoyed plenty of possession early on.
Yet disaster was lurking. It was galling for Moyes to see one of his most experienced players gift Frankfurt the initiative. West Ham could not afford any false moves and Cresswell had nobody but himself to blame when he failed to deal with a hopeful punt, the slightest hint of hesitation from the left-back enough to give Jens Petter Hauge a chance to steal possession and burst through on goal.
Cresswell was too slow to respond. Hauge was far more assertive and the only surprise was that Jesús Gil Manzano, the Spanish referee, initially reached for a yellow card when Cresswell dragged the Frankfurt forward down just outside the area.
It was a clear denial of a goalscoring opportunity from Cresswell, who had learned nothing from being sent off for the same offense against Lyon in the previous round. Frankfurt appealed for a red and the outcome was inevitable when Manzano checked the pitchside monitor.
The numerical advantage soon told. West Ham adjusted after going down to 10 men, shoring up their defense by replacing Manuel Lanzini with Ben Johnson, but it wasn’t enough. Frankfurt simply had too much space. They kept the ball moving and were ahead after carving West Ham apart in the 26th minute, Ansgar Knauff surging past Johnson on the right and pulling the ball back for Rafael Borré to beat Alphonse Areola with a low finish.
At least West Ham continued to fight. Antonio threatened, almost running through before Evan Ndicka stepped in with a fine challenge. Hope flared and the equalizer almost arrived when a free-kick from Jarrod Bowen reached Kurt Zouma, who was unable to turn the ball over the line.
Yet West Ham did not have enough without Lanzini on the pitch. Pablo Fornals was rarely involved and Bowen saw little of the ball. Frankfurt were comfortable. Their intensity made life awkward for West Ham. Even Declan Rice was becalmed in midfield.
It was not to be and the challenge now for West Ham, whose hopes of Champions League qualification are over, is to ensure this is not the end. This is a good team that just needs a sprinkling of quality added to it. The summer will be pivotal. It is a chance to push on, to keep building around Rice, to ensure these occasions are not a one-off. For now, though, there is only pain.