Having successfully negotiated opponents from Finland, the Netherlands, France and Croatia, the Hammers finally came unstuck against Steaua Bucharest of Romania. Playing their 10th European tie of the season the London club were unable to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit against the army club team that was once the play-thing of Valentin Ceausescu, son of the notorious former dictator Nicolae.
The Hammers played some magnificent football and created more than a dozen chances but poor finishing, superb goalkeeping and ill-luck prevented them scoring even one goal.
Their cause was not helped by an inadequate and weak referee who allowed the Romanians to disrupt the Hammers with a string of unsavoury antics from crude fouls to faked injuries. It was a pity because, in the later stages, they showed they also had quality and they will be opponents to beware in today's Uefa Cup third-round draw.
"I'm proud of them," said Harry Redknapp, "they've nothing to be ashamed of. It was one of those days when the ball just wouldn't go in." He was right. The team combined for 42 goal attempts - and still no goal.
There is no European second chance for the Hammers. "We drop down to the Essex Senior Cup," said Redknapp. If they play like this, they will be worth watching even in that competition.
Last night the West Ham manager included all his magicians, Paolo Di Canio, Paulo Wanchope and Joe Cole. Though Di Canio's edge was dulled by a bruising battle with his uncompromising marker Albert Duro, Cole, who is not 18 until Monday, and Wanchope did not let him down.
The early exchanges were physical with Duro trying to provoke Di Canio with a series of rough tackles. Within ten minutes both had gone sprawling to the ground in agony claiming rogue elbows and it seemed neither would last the match. Duro should not have done but he was continually indulged by the lenient referee. Even when he booked him it was for throwing the ball away. "He was crazy," said Redknapp. "He'd have been sent off five times in the Premiership."
The Hammers did create the chances which should have brought them the early breakthrough. In the eighth minute Frank Lampard brought a sharp save from Zoltan Ritli, then Wanchope headed against the post. A glorious run by Cole created a chance for Di Canio but Ritli denied both him and Trevor Sinclair's follow-up. Penalty claims by Sinclair and Neil Ruddock followed.
The second period began in a similarly one-sided manner. Lampard sent a spectacular volley just wide and had a shot blocked while Sinclair and Di Canio wasted good chances.
Steaua, maybe realising their luck could not last, then began to counter- attack and twice went close through Ionel Danciulescu and Sabin Ilie who hit the post from long-range. Redknapp responded by bringing on Paul Kitson and reverting to three forwards but the move disrupted his team's balance and they were never as dominant again. Instead the match became open and both teams made and wasted chances.
While Shaka Hislop made a trio of fine saves at one end Sinclair saw a thunderous shot pushed against the post at the other. West Ham's night was summed up as, in the closing minutes, the ineffable Duro cleared a Wanchope header off the line and Steve Lomas had a 'goal' disallowed.
West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Ferdinand, Ruddock, Margas; Sinclair, Lampard, Cole, Lomas, Keller (Kitson, 65); Di Canio, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Foe, Potts, Angus, Carrick, Purches.
Steaua Bucharest (3-5-2): Ritli; Baciu, Miu, Duro; Reghecampf, Danciulescu (Trica, 69), Lincar (Lacatus, 82), Rosu, Bordeanu; Ciocoiu (Lutu, 88), Ilie. Substitutes not used: Hotoboc (gk), Chiorean, Luca, Iordache.
Referee: L Pucek (Cz Rep).Reuse content