Astra Giurgiu 1 West Ham United 1
Thursday, 18th August 2016
by Staff Writer
West Ham are in pole position at the halfway stage in their Europa League clash with Astra after drawing the first leg 1-1 in Romania tonight.However it should have been much better for Slaven Bilic's side, who conceded in the closing stages for the second time in 72 hours, following Diego Costa's 89th minute winner in Monday night's 2-1 defeat against Chelsea, allowing Astra a way back into the tie.
Mark Noble gave the Hammers a deserved lead from the penalty spot with half time approaching after Astra's Cristian Sapunaru experienced what could perhaps best be described as a brain fart when needlessly handballing from a corner.
The Hammers captain, so deadly from 12 yards had little problem converting his latest effort thanks to goalkeeper Lung's decision to move to his left early, allowing Noble to plant his shot in the centre of the (now gaping) goal.
Unfortunately West Ham were unable to build on their lead; having already seen Michail Antonio's bullet header cleared off the line and new signing Jonathan Calleri narrowly fail to convert a Noble cross in the first half, a string of chances subsequently went begging.
But none were more clear-cut - and, as it transpired, as costly - than when Antonio, who had been restored to his favoured position out wide, missed an open goal - albeit at full pace - after substitute Marcus Browne's brilliant run and clever pass had left him with the goal at his mercy.
For within 90 seconds of Antonio's gaffe, the hosts had drawn level through substitute Alibec, who left James Collins with a face as red as his beard when turning the Welsh international inside the six-yard box before firing into the roof of Darren Randolph's net.
Thereafter it was Astra who looked more likely to score a deciding goal and West Ham who were, as a result, far more relieved to hear Artur Dias' whistle that signalled the end of the match.
The second leg takes place at the Olympic Stadium next Thursday evening (25 August); the winners of the tie will enter the Europa League group stage which guarantees a further six games, to be played between 15 September and 8 December.
West Ham Utd: Randolph, Byram, Oxford, Ogbonna, Burke, Obiang, Noble, Antonio, Valencia (Carroll 62), Tore (Browne 74), Calleri (Collins 63).
Subs not used: Adrian, Reid, Kouyate, Fletcher.
Bookings: Byram, Oxford, Antonio.
Goals: Noble (44 pen).
Astra Giurgiu: Lung; Vangjeli (Alibec 58), Alves, Fabricio, Junior Morais, Sapunaru, Lovin, Ionita (Florea 85), Seto, Filipe Teixeira (Balaure 90+5), Niculae.
Subs not used: Gavrilas, Oros, Mansaly, Stan.
Bookings: Sapunaru, Vangjeli, Alves, Alibec.
Goals: Alibec (83).
Referee: Artur Dias (Portugal).
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Player RatingsDarren Randolph
Rarely called into action but more than capable when asked to do so. A nice easy start to the season for one of the RoI's Euro 16 heroes.
Looked accomplished at full back tonight, as he had very little defending to do. Sterner tests will follow for Antonio, as will the inevitable qeustions regarding his suitability for the role.
Sam endured a torried time in the first leg so it was pleasing to see him put in a solid performance tonight in an unfamiliar position.
Calm, assured and willing to put the boot in when required - just what you want from a centre half.
Another youngster to shine on the big night. The Ox was an able partner to the more experienced Reid but also capable of turning defence into attack with some delightful flighted dellveries.
Another player making his debut, the Norwegian had a fairly quiet first half but came alive in the second. He also showed some lovely footwork as the game reached its closing stages; another impressive start.
A classy performance from a very important player. Payet and Noble drew the plaudits last season but it was Kouyate that kept the midfield ticking over. Tonight he takes the acclaim for two goals that steered West Ham into the next round of the competition.
Solid and combative as per usual, his most notable contribution was the superb delivery for Feghouli's goal. Should be a shoo-in for Allarduce's next squad, at this rate.
The big man put himself about well and played an important role in both of Kouyate's goals. He still seems a little of the pace, thought that's not unusual at this stage of the season.
An impressive start for the winger, who may well have taken the Man of the Match award were it not for Kouyate's two-goal haul. He ran at Domzale's defence all night and was finally rewarded with a goal that sealed the win.
Whilst you can certainly question the ability, there can be no doubt that Valencia gave 100 per cent for West Ham tonight - the sort of attitude his former striker partner would do well to take note of.
Long linked with a move away from the club but given a positive reception upon his introduction by the crowd. Another who seems determined to work through his difficulties.
A nice little two-minute caneo to introduce him to the West Ham family.
See above, just for half the time...
Adrian San Miguel Del Castillo
Match FactsWest Ham United: Darren Randolph, Michail Antonio, Sam Byram, Winston Reid, Reece Oxford, Havard Nordtveit, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Sofiane Feghouli, Enner Valencia.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 8 Cheikhou Kouyate 22 Sofiane Feghouli 81 .
Booked: Michail Antonio Sofiane Feghouli Enner Valencia .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Astra Giurgiu: Marava, Brachi, Dobrovoljc, Horic, Balkovec, Morel, Horvat, Majer, Crnic, Alvir, Mance.
Subs not used: Milic, Vetrih, Repas, Blazic.
Booked: Crnic, Balkovec, Horic.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Fredy Fautrel.
Man of the Match: Cheikhou Kouyate.