Late-goal specialist Tomáš Souček ensured European football will continue down West Ham way in the New Year thanks to his crucial 88th-minute match-winner.

This disjointed tie had looked to be heading towards a freezing, frustrating, Serbian stalemate but the on-fire Czech international warmed up everyone in Claret and Blue with his third successive last-gasp Hammers’ goal in three games to keep David Moyes men at the top of UEFA Europa League Group A with just one match left.

And while that guarantees West Ham United’s place in the knockout stages, they now broadly only need to avoid defeat against second-placed SC Freiburg on December 14 in order to leapfrog straight into the last 16 of the competition in March.

Victory over Olympiacos (1-0) earlier this month had already ensured the Hammers went into Matchday Five sitting proudly at the top of the group with nine points and, having also recorded Souček-inspired, back-to-back wins over Nottingham Forest (3-2) and Burnley (2-1) on the domestic front, they arrived in Serbia sitting in ninth spot in the Premier League, too.

Now facing the daunting prospect of playing 10 matches inside 34 days – including that Matchday Six group clash with the Germans and a Carabao Cup quarter-final tie at Liverpool - the Hammers boss found himself shuffling his pack, once again.

Making seven changes from the side that won at Turf Moor on Saturday – and still without Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen - the Scot handed 19-year-old striker Divin Mubama a rare start alongside Saïd Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Łukasz Fabiański, Ben Johnson, Aaron Cresswell and Konstantinos Mavropanos.

While Mohammed Kudus, Edson Álvarez and Vladimír Coufal remained at home in England, skipper Kurt Zouma, Danny Ings, Emerson and Alphonse Areola each dropped to the bench.

Despite forcing a corner in the opening exchanges, the Hammers had specialist cup keeper Fabiański to thank on six minutes for denying the hosts an early lead, when he got down low to save Uroš Milovanović’s deft flick after Miloš Cvetković had got the better of Cresswell to send a low right-wing cross towards the penalty spot.

FK TSC Bačka Topola had taken a shock lead at London Stadium only for a Kudus-led comeback to give the Hammers a 3-1 victory in September and, heading into their fifth game of the competition, they now languished at the bottom of the table with just one draw to show for their efforts to date.

But on the domestic front, Žarko Lavetić’s side had won 4-0 at leaders Partizan Belgrade on Saturday to leave themselves in third spot in the Serbian SuperLiga and, following that confidence-boosting triumph, the hosts made just two switches.

Goran Antonić and Nikola Kuveljić both earned call-ups to the starting line-up in the quest to record their first-ever Europa League victory and keep alive their hopes of entering the UEFA Europa Conference League at the knockout stage, next spring.

With a dozen minutes in the clock, Johnson also braved the cold to charge down a stinging effort from Kuveljić before Ifet Dakovac’s 18-yarder was deflected wide for a corner.

Kuveljić also sent another long-ranger over the top and, while the counter-attacking Hammers were also able to force a couple of flag-kicks of their own thanks to the incisive darting runs of Lucas Paquetá and Benrahma, they really were lacking any killer instinct inside the FK TSC penalty box.

On the half-hour mark, though, the ever-alert Paquetá invited Mubama to race onto his well-flighted chip towards the 18-yard line, where advancing Veljko Ilić bravely dived into the young striker’s flailing studs leaving the Serbian stopper needing treatment.

At the other end, another home raid saw Fabiański gratefully clutch a low, angled drive from Cvetković at the second attempt before Benrahma’s weak 12-yarder presented the now recovered Ilić with the easiest of stop before Paquetá uncharacteristically launched a wayward range-finder high into the home fans sitting in the compact stands of the 4,500 capacity stadium.

Then right on half-time, the Brazilian was hauled back by the consequently-cautioned Nemanja Petrović but when James Ward-Prowse duly delivered the subsequent free-kick onto the head of Souček at the far post, there were no Hammers on hand to convert the Czech midfielder’s nod down across the face of goal.

It had certainly been a dull, uninspiring blank opening 45 minutes in the Serbian chill for the travelling Claret and Blue army caged into one corner of the TSC Arena and news of second-placed SC Freiburg’s four-goal interval lead over Olympiacos did little to bring any warmth to those 320 visiting supporters.

Ten minutes after the restart, Fornals became the second name to go into the book of Dutch referee Allard Lindhout for a lunge on Aleksandar Ćirković and after Kuveljić saw his low shot saved by Fabiański, Ćalušić also saw yellow for a foul on the Spaniard.

With nothing doing in the FK TSC penalty area, Moyes went for a double switch midway through the second-half, introducing Ings and Maxwel Cornet for Mubama and Benrahma and, shortly afterwards, Paquetá’s 18-yarder took a looping deflection over the bar to the relief of the grateful, grounded Ilić.

His side still very much in the contest, it was the turn of Lazetić to ring the changes with a triple substation that saw Jovan Vlalukin, Miloš Vulić and Miloš Pantović step from the dug-out.

Moyes duly responded by changing both full-backs as Emerson and Thilo Kehrer replaced Cresswell and Johnson for the final dozen minutes or so but just when the Hammers looked destined to be held to a dismal, disappointing draw up popped that man, Souček.

Not only had he netted late deciders against Forest and Burnley in his last two club outings but the 66-cap Czech Republic midfielder also struck for his country against Poland and Moldova during the recent international break, too.

Indeed, with just two minutes remaining, Kehrer combined with fellow substitute Cornet, who whipped over a right wing cross towards the far post, where Souček saved West Ham blushes by ghosting behind the flat-footed home defence to stab home the match-winner – and his 10th goal of the campaign - from six yards to guarantee the Hammers that richly-coveted place in those knockout stages.

FK TSC BAČKA TOPOLA: Ilić, Antonić, Petrović, Stojić, Ćalušić, Radin (Vulić 77), Kuveljić (Vlalukin 77), Cvetković, Ćirković (Sós 86), Dakovac, Milovanović (Pantović 77). Unused subs: Simić, Jorgić, Mirchevski, Krstić, Rakonjac.

WEST HAM UNITED: Fabiański, Johnson (Kehrer 78), Cresswell (Emerson 78), Aguerd, Mavropanos, Souček, Ward-Prowse, Paquetá, Fornals, Benrahma (Cornet 66), Mubama (Ings 66). Unused subs: Areola, Anang, Zouma, Ogbonna, Coventry, Chesters, Scarles, Orford.

Booked: Petrović (45), Fornals (55), Ćalušić (63), Emerson (87).

Referee: Allard Lindhout (Netherlands).