West Ham musings by Pete May, author of Hammers in the Heart, West Ham:Irons in the Soul, Flying So High:West Ham's Cup Finals and Goodbye to Boleyn
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.
THIS IS THE ENNER
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
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.”