Friday, July 31

Hammers blow two-goal-lead against Astra

West Ham 2  Astra Giurgiu 2 (Europa League Qualifier)

The Ashes are still on but football’s coming home to E13… It’s another packed summer house at Upton Park as we anticipate the game in Ken’s Café. Michael the Whovian impersonates Tom Baker (who was once married to Lalla Ward who once played Princess Astra in Doctor Who, stick with it). Meanwhile Matt employs complex negotiating skills to order Lisa a 7.45pm takeaway portion of chips. Nigel's absent as his mum is visiting and for some reason she doesn't want to see the best the Europa League has to offer.

We enter the stadium where we are joined by a late Fraser. It’s West Ham pressure throughout the first half and we’re starting to get a glimpse of what a Bilic team will look like. The wingers have gone and it’s left to the full backs and Zarate and Payet to drift wide to provide the width. Everything revolves around Payet sand he looks a real West Ham-type player, a scurrying presence with great skill who will dominate going forwards. We also get to see Reece Oxford as a midfield holding player, who plays it simple and looks remarkably composed for a 16-year-old.

West Ham take the lead after 23 minutes. A corner is half cleared, Payet jinks inside and outside his man on the left and delivers a perfect cross for Enner Valencia to rise well and score. Should be good for Enner’s confidence, as he just didn’t score enough last season.

The only Astra threat is when Joey O’Brien is pickpocketed by Budescu and creates a chance. Yet our injury crisis has already begun to worsen. O’Brien has to go off with hamstring trouble after 36 minutes and is replaced by Reece Burke. A minute later Valencia goes down heavily and is stretched off. On comes Modibo Maiga. It looks bad and there seems to an unwritten rule that all our three strikers have to be either injured or suspended. 

West Ham still continue attack though and go close when Zarate controls the ball on the edge of the box and has a fine effort tipped away from the top corner.

The second half starts off well, and we double our lead on 51 minutes. Zarate receives the ball half way in side the Astra half and runs at three defenders. It looks like he will maybe pass to Maiga but instead he bamboozles three defenders in a mazy dribble and prods the ball into the net. Best goal of the season so far. ”Super Slaven Bilic!” salute the Bobby Moore Stand.

But at least we haven’t quite forgotten how to mess up a two-goal lead. Collins is booked for a body check and a few minutes’ later makes a silly challenge outside the area and receives a second yellow. That’s the same Collins who in the Standard has warned about the dangers of WHU getting players sent off.

So it’s down to Burke at right back and 16-year-old Reece Oxford at centre back for the last 30 minutes. Oxford makes a couple of great interceptions and Ogbonna performs a saving tackle, but Astra pull one back with a great strike from the edge of the box from Boldrin.

Everyone starts to get nervous and you start to worry about Bilic’s tactical acumen as he brings on Matt Jarvis for Zarate rather than shore up the midfield with Poyet or Nolan. The inevitable happens on 82 minutes. Ogbonna lunges at a pass into the box and manages to loop the ball up over Adrian into the top corner. Not quite as good as James Collins' effort  at Man City but as own goals go a bit of a classic. Oh dear.,

To round the evening off Maiga gets booked for diving and the ref ostentatiously delivers a red card to Bilic for something he said from the bench. Apparently it’s quite common for Slaven to get sent off. ‘’You’ve got problems when Julian Dicks is on the bench telling you to calm down,” suggests Matt.

At least we don’t actually lose. Matt texts Nigel to say that all he's missed is a two-goal lead overturned, Payet's debut, two red cards and an own goal. We retreat to the Central where Matt suggests that our squad is starting to look a bit like Zola’s, good football but too many number tens in Payet, Zarate and Lanzini.

“It’s July and we’re already depressed,” I venture. We agree on the need for a striker like Charlie Austin though for some reason the Vicar’s Son ridicules my suggestion that Rickie Lambert might be a cheap fix for one season. There’s some mirth at the news that Carlton Cole is in trouble for failing to report a speeding offence in his car  – and it’s suggested that there are 30,000 character witnesses at Upton Park who will vouch that he’s never been spotted going too fast in E13.

Then the Central delivers a masterclass in how not to run a pub. We’ve waited ages to be served and then at 10.30pm they play horribly loud music to drive us out, via the loos which have flooded.

Still, we played well for 60 minutes and Sakho will be back for the second leg. But you sense this might be the end of our European tour.

“We’ll concentrate on the League Cup,” suggests Fraser, “that’s the really big one.”

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; O’Brien 5 (Burke 5), Ogbonna 5, Collins 4, Cresswell 5; Oxford 6, Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Payet 7; Valencia 6 (Maiga 5), Zarate 7 (Jarvis 4).


Anonymous said...

Was not at the match but according to WHUFC O'Brien (29), Collins (55 + 59), Cresswell (79) and Payet (91)got yellow cards (obviously 2 yellows = 1 red for Collins).

Pete May said...

Yes, a whistle-happy ref booked a lot of players and avoided taking action after they gave Payet a lot of rough treatment.