Ukraine international Andriy Yarmolenko was emotional as he scored the opener against Aston Villa in his first West Ham appearance since the outbreak of war in his native country.
The 32-year-old brought an otherwise disappointing game to life when he controlled Said Benrahma’s pass with his right foot before firing past Emiliano Martinez with his left.
Substitute Yarmolenko, who replaced Michail Antonio in the second half, shed tears as he dropped to his knees in celebration.
He was welcomed onto the field with a warm reception from both sets of supporters, and some Aston Villa fans even applauded as he was embraced by his teammates for the goal.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Yarmolenko said he “tried to give everything on the pitch”.
“It was so emotional for me because of the situation in my country,” he said. “It is so difficult for me right now at this moment thinking about football because every day, the Russian army is killing Ukrainian people.
“I just want to say thank you to my teammates, who support me all the time, every day. To West Ham fans, they also support me and Ukrainian people and also to all British people, because we feel you support us.
“I felt the support from the fans and I tried to give everything on the pitch because I know how important the game was for us today. I’m not ready for 100% because the last two weeks I train maybe three or four times.
“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. I just tried to give everything on the pitch.”
Following the game, Hammers boss David Moyes told the BBC the club had given the striker “as much time as he needs”.
“His family is safe at the moment, he tells me,” said Moyes. “He wants to make sure everybody is fine and he has a lot going on.
“Sometimes, football is a release and hopefully he has had a bit of a release getting on the pitch again and scoring but there are more important things in life than football.
“The goal is great. He has great technical ability, and he is capable of scoring big goals, as he has done for me since I’ve been here.”
The Hammers were lifted after taking the lead and Pablo Fornals sealed victory when he powered Benrahma’s cutback past Martinez.
Villa arrived in the capital off the back of three impressive wins but they had to settle for a Jacob Ramsey consolation late on.
The visitors were denied taking the lead when Danny Ings’ effort was tipped onto the post by Lukasz Fabianski before the ball came harmlessly back to the West Ham goalkeeper.
Victory for the hosts ended a run of three defeats in all competitions and lifted them to fifth in the table, while Villa remain ninth.
Yarmolenko makes the difference
In the first half with few clear-cut chances, Yarmolenko’s introduction in the 51st minute sparked the crowd and the game of life.
The Ukraine forward, who featured on the front cover of the match program, replaced Antonio with a warm ovation and immediately set about linking up his side’s play.
Then the moment of brilliance came when he neatly brought down Benrahma’s tricky pass before guiding the ball into the far corner in two movements.
Football will have been secondary for Yarmolenko since Russia’s invasion of his country and, in that small moment of adulation, he allowed the emotion to spill out.
Having been boosted by the goal, the forward then opted to take on another shot from a tight angle rather than look for the pass, but no one in the London Stadium was complaining at his choice.
Fornals fired the second which put the game out of reach but Villa rallied late on as they tried to wrestle back momentum.
Ramsey smashed Emiliano Buendia’s pass into the net with aplomb after the latter had a good opportunity kept out by the impressive Fabianski.
Steven Gerrard will be pleased by his side’s intent after going behind as they managed more shots on target (seven) than their hosts (four), but they lacked the clinical edge that has seen them score nine unanswered goals in their last three matches.