Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko and Spanish midfielder Pablo Fornals scored a goal each as West Ham defeated Aston Villa 2-1 at home on Sunday, ending Steven Gerrard’s side’s run of three consecutive wins in the Premier League.
Yarmolenko had been granted compassionate leave after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month and then fell ill, missing West Ham’s 1-0 loss in the first leg of their Europa League round-of-16match in Seville on Thursday.
He fell to his knees and lifted his arms to the sky after scoring Sunday’s first goal in the 70th minute, having picked up a precise pass from Said Benrahma and slammed it into the bottom right corner.
The tearful Ukrainian, who scored less than 20 minutes after coming on for the injured Michail Antonio, was immediately surrounded by his team mates and applauded by the fans of both sides.
“It was so emotional for me because of the situation in my country. It is difficult for me right now (to) think about football because every day, the Russian army is killing Ukrainian people,” he said.
“Since 26 February, I had to rest for four days because it was impossible to train; I was just thinking about my family and my people.”
West Ham doubled their lead 12 minutes later when Benrahma sent another perfect pass, this time to Fornals who scored his fifth Premier League goal of the season.
Aston Villa managed to find a way past goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and pulled one back in the 90th minute when midfielder Jacob Ramsey received the ball from Emiliano Buendia and sent a fine strike inside the right post.
“We lost the game on two moments. There wasn’t much in the game, in terms of the levels of the two teams,” Gerrard said.
“I’ve got no complaints in terms of what the players have given me: attitude, effort and commitment. It’s our third game in a week and we’ve worked ever so hard.”
West Ham, coming from a three-game losing streak in all competitions, moved into the top five on 48 points, ahead on goal difference of Arsenal, who have four games in hand. Aston Villa remained ninth on 36 points.
Villa next host Arsenal on Saturday while West Ham travel to eighth-placed Tottenham Hotspur next Sunday.