David Moyes was relieved to come through a “difficult night” after West Ham recovered from a goal down to take a 2-1 lead into next week’s Europa Conference League second leg with AZ Alkmaar.
Goals from Said Benrahma and Michail Antonio kept West Ham’s dreams of a first trophy in 43 years alive at a sold-out London Stadium.
The Hammers were big favourites to beat the Dutch dark horses, but were put on the back foot when goalkeeper Alphonse Areola gifted AZ the lead before half-time.
But another goalkeeping error from Australia international Mathew Ryan gave West Ham a penalty which Benrahma converted.
Antonio then prodded home from a corner after a goalmouth scramble to give the Hammers a crucial lead going into next Thursday’s return leg in the Netherlands.
“We’ve got a narrow lead but nothing more than that,” said Moyes.
“The tie is very evenly balanced, there is very little in the game, if we were losing by a goal I wouldn’t be saying we were out of the tie.
“I’m pleased we’ve got ourselves in front, which is a big thing. It was a difficult night. We’ve learned some lessons over the years but it’s difficult when you think you’re not getting the rub of the green. But we’re used to that at the minute.
“We’re just off a big win against Manchester United and just won 2-1 in a semi-final first leg, so that’s OK. But we have a big job to do next week.”
West Ham were given a painful lesson in last season’s Europa League semi-final, conceding in the first minute of the first leg and losing Aaron Cresswell to a red card in the second as they crashed out to Eintracht Frankfurt.
They got an early warning when former Southampton midfielder Jordy Clasie fizzed a low shot just past the post.
And history repeated itself when West Ham allowed AZ to take a shock lead five minutes before half-time, Areola letting Tijjani Reijnders’ shot in at his near post.
Turkish referee Halil Umut Meler pointed to the penalty spot and Benrahma stepped up to bury a perfect spot-kick just inside the post.
The official had infuriated the home crowd all match but, unlike last year’s match in Frankfurt, West Ham kept their heads.
“It’s an emotional game, football, and the players were fighting for everything.”
Eight minutes later West Ham went ahead, Antonio stabbing home the rebound after Nayef Aguerd’s header was cleared off the line to give them a slim advantage and, if they improve next week, every chance of moving a step closer to a first European trophy since 1965.