It proved to be a bridge too far for West Ham United at London Stadium, where Bayer Leverkusen finally ended their epic European adventure spanning three seasons and 37 matches across 13 overseas countries.

But it was also a night of heroic, glorious East End failure for the Hammers who bravely attempted to chase down the two-goal deficit they had suffered in Germany in the first leg of this UEFA Europa League quarter-final, seven days earlier. 

When Michail Antonio gave David Moyes’ men the early goal they had so desperately needed on the green, green grass of home, there was tangible hope that West Ham could pull off the impossible dream in this return tie.

To a man, the Claret and Blue army relentlessly cheered and cajoled their side in the quest for another breakthrough, however substitute Jeremie Frimpong extinguished those hopes with a deflected goal with just one minute of normal time remaining.

Already chasing that losing two-goal margin from last week’s tie in Germany, Moyes’ already steep task had taken on yet more mountainous proportions with the suspensions of Lucas Paquetá and Emerson, who both collected their third bookings in the competition at the Bay Arena.

But the Scot was, at least, able to welcome back the club’s fit-again, talismanic, record European goal-scorer, Jarrod Bowen, who has netted 19 goals in all competitions this season.

Sunday’s dismal defeat at the hands of Fulham had left the Hammers in eighth spot in the Premier League - outside next season’s qualifying places - and four days on, West Ham made a quartet of changes.

Skipper Kurt Zouma, Aaron Cresswell and Tomáš Souček each joined Bowen in the starting line-up as Danny Ings dropped to a depleted, youthful ten-man bench, while an injured Konstantinos Mavropanos plus those two banned boys from Brazil sat out altogether. 

Roared by a partisan crowd in the sell-out 62,500 attendance, the Hammers wasted no time in trying to reduce their two-goal arrears and, with Bowen bringing renewed pace and purpose to a three-pronged attack alongside Antonio and Mohammed Kudus, Leverkusen certainly found themselves on the back foot early on.

Indeed, with less than five minutes on the clock, Odilon Kossounou was booked for scything through James Ward-Prowse and, shortly afterwards, the West Ham midfielder came within a boot-lace of tackling keeper Matēj Kovár as he dallied in his own six-yard box. 

After a 120-year wait, the Germans had finally shrugged off their unwanted ‘Neverkusen’ label by lifting  their first-ever Bundesliga title with a 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Sunday afternoon.

And, having safely deposited that coveted piece of silverware in the Bay Arena trophy room with five domestic matches still to spare, Xabi Alonso’s runaway winners now turned their attention to Europe.

Heading to London Stadium unbeaten in their previous 43 league and cup matches – a run stretching all the way back to August - Bayer Leverkusen must have reckoned that they had already done most of the ground work for this second leg, back on their home soil.

Indeed, last Thursday’s late strikes from substitutes Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface had left the heartbroken Hammers staring into that two-goal hole and, now arriving in the East End, Alonso made a half-dozen changes to the side that had steamrolled its way to that Bundesliga triumph four days earlier. 

Kovár, Florian Wirtz, Patrik Schick, Josip Stanišić, Alejandro Grimaldo and Exequiel Palacios each returned for this European assignment, while last week’s match-winners Hofmann and Boniface watched menacingly from the bench. 

While looking to attack, the Hammers were only too aware that they needed to keep things tight at the back, too, and Nathan Tella issued due warning of that when he let fly with a 25-yarder that the flying Łukasz Fabiański diverted aside for a 10th-minute corner.

But on 13 minutes the early goal that an entire East End was craving duly arrived when Kossounou’s nightmare start to the evening continued with a careless clearance to Souček.

The Czech Republic international accepted the gift before squaring to Bowen and, following neat interplay with Vladimír Coufal on the right, the England midfielder delivered an enticing cross into the danger-zone, where Antonio climbed between the red-faced Kossounou and Kovár to nod the ball into the net from six yards out. 

The roar that greeted Antonio’s fifth goal of the campaign – and his first in Europe this season - would have shaken all four points of the capital’s compass.

Having got one, the Hammers now went in search of what, ultimately, proved to be an elusive second and, after Kudus saw his low 15-yarder deflected into Kovár’s clutches, another Antonio header was saved by the German goalie.

Midway through the half, Bowen arrived at the far post to meet a left-wing cross from Kudus but Kovar thwarted the angled volley with his outstretched right boot and a fantastic opportunity to level the tie went begging.

Once again, the crest-fallen Kossounou had been beaten all ends up by the pace and power of the Hammers attack and having been withdrawn for his own protection by Alonso, the Ivory Coast international headed straight down the tunnel of shame as Edmond Tapsoba stepped from the dug-out with less than half-hour on the clock.

Nerves shredded and tempers frayed, an unsightly fracas ensued between both benches as Moyes’ red-carded coach Billy McKinlay and a livid Leverkusen counterpart were dispatched to the stands, while out on the pitch another unseemly spat between the duly booked duo of Antonio and Leverkusen skipper Jonathan Tah had to be quickly diffused by busy Spanish official José Maria Sánchez as a tetchy two-team scrum developed.

The game resuming at pace, Edson Álvarez fired high and wide before the sliding Antonio was just a stud away from another unplayable Bowen ball into the six-yard box that was gratefully gathered by Kovár at the last moment. 

Twisting his ankle in a challenge with Schick, Aguerd was subsequently forced to retire in place of Angelo Ogbonna with seconds of the opening period remaining but that late switch was the only blot on a one-sided first half that had totally belonged to West Ham United on all counts.

An agitated, alarmed Alonso made a double-switch for the restart with Boniface and, tellingly, Frimpong emerging from the visitors’ dressing room in place of Schick and Tella but it was the earlier substitute – Tapsoba – who was in trouble when the diminutive figure of Bowen outmuscled him in the area before drilling a low ball across the face of goal, where no-one was on hand to apply a deadly Claret and Blue touch.

At the other end, with Leverkusen beginning to carve out some semblance of a foothold on the second period, Frimpong’s angled shot from the edge of the area was clawed behind at his near post by the alert Fabiański.

Introducing yet more fresh legs, Alonso hurled on Amine Adli for Grimaldo and, with their supply lines now becoming far more restricted, Kudus, Antonio and Bowen were starting to cut frustrated figures as Senor Sánchez’s leniency appeared to favour the visiting defence rather than the home attack.

Bowen was booked for one protest too many after being hauled down by Piero Hincapié and, with home intensity diminishing and Leverkusen gamesmanship increasing, the Spanish official infuriated the home faithful yet further when he produced yellow cards for Coufal, Zouma and Souček in quick succession.

By now, the clock was ticking down far too quickly and, after Frimpong broke clear before blazing high over with the goal at his mercy, Moyes went for a last roll of the dice as Maxwel Cornet and Ben Johnson arrived on the scene in place of Álvarez and Coufal. 

But with the card count approaching double figures in a niggly finale and a storm falling from the Stratford skies, the heartbroken Hammers were to discover that it does not just rain but it pours, when Leverkusen broke forward with just seconds remaining to level with a Frimpong shot that deflected off the luckless Cresswell.

Treble-chasing Leverkusen now face Roma in the semi-finals as well as 1.FC Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final, while the Hammers – who were applauded from the field - must now shrug of this disappointment and get their Premier League campaign back on track.

That starts with Sunday’s visit to Crystal Palace (3pm) if they are to secure a top-seven qualification spot and extend their epic European adventure into a fabulous fourth season. 
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal (Johnson 84), Cresswell, Zouma, Aguerd (Ogbonna 45+2), Álvarez, (Cornet 84), Souček, Ward-Prowse, Kudus, Bowen, Antonio. Unused subs: Anang, Knightbridge, Ings, Casey, Mubama, Swyer, Orford.

Bayer Leverkusen: Kovár, Stanišić, Hincapié, Tah, Kossounou (Tapsoba 29), Palacios, Xhaka, Tella (Frimpong 46), Grimaldo (Adli 68), Wirtz (Andrich 87), Schick (Boniface 46). Unused subs: Hrádecky, Lomb, Hofmann, Arthur, Puerta, Izekor.

Booked:  Kossounou (5), Antonio (31), Tah (31), Bowen (72), Coufal (79), Zouma (79) Souček (85), Palacios (85), Kovár (87), Adli (90).
Referee: José Maria Sánchez (Spain).