After three rounds of trying to varying degrees, West Ham finally sealed an exit from the Europa League on Thursday, going out 4-3 on aggregate to Astra Giurgiu.
Somehow they’d survived three red cards, a penalty shootout and a two-goal lead let slip prior to the second leg in Romania, where a suicide note squad selection finally put them out of their misery.
For many Irons who had been cherishing the prospect of seeing the Boleyn Ground’s final campaign burnished with European evenings under the Thursday-night lights, their seemingly wilful capitulation will stick in the craw.
All the more so given the upcoming Premier League match against Arsenal, the most likely excuse for fielding such an understrength line-up in Girgiu, pits Slaven Bilic’s men against a side who have done the double over them four times in succession.
Yet, while such a ploy can be regarded as unsporting and disrespectful to a loyal fanbase robbed of the chance to travel the outposts of the continent for too long, it’s also shrewd.
Unless a club can sustain the size of squad reserved for Champions League aspirants then the Europa League is a domestic-divisional millstone.
Just ask Newcastle, Swansea or Everton – all of whom have suffered when trying to juggle European football with their default commitments in recent campaigns.
The Irons are now free to concentrate on top-flight mid-table consolidation ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium next season without fear of being drawn into squad-stretched relegation skirmish.
Championship football in such a hulking arena would not be a good look.
Odds compilers at bwin.com have priced up a Premier League seasonal match bet between Bilic’s side and Southampton, who, unlike West Ham, qualified for the Europa League play-off round.
It has the looks of a fascinating betting heat, with the Saints 4/11 favourites and the Eastenders must be value at 2/1 to finish above the south-coast club.
Ronald Koeman’s squad has been raided for key players over the summer – true they bounced back from a similar setback last season, but the added burden of regular European football may thwart them in their attempts to do similar this time.
West Ham, by contrast, will be unanchored, free to float up the standings like those Boleyn Ground bubbles in the stadium’s farewell campaign.