West Ham cling on for a draw in Romania
PUBLISHED: 21:21 18 August 2016 | UPDATED: 21:21 18 August 2016
The Hammers skipper Mark Noble strikes a penalty but it is Astra who finish the stronger
Astra Giurgiu 1 West Ham United 1
West Ham grabbed a precious away goal, but they had to cling on for a draw in the end in their Europa League play-off clash with Astra Giurgiu in Romania.
Skipper Mark Noble had fired the Hammers ahead on the stroke of half time with a penalty, but the arrival of substitute striker Denis Alibek in the second half turned the tide the Romanians way and in the end, the Hammers were grateful to hear the final whistle.
Slaven Bilic gave a debut to young Argentina striker Jonathan Calleri who had only arrived at the club at the beginning of the week. But he had clearly made an impression on the coaching staff to get the nod in the lone striker role ahead of Ashley Fletcher, with Andy Carroll also on the bench.
Youngster Reece Oxford was selected alongside Angelo Ogbonna in central defence, while another centre back in Reece Burke was drafted in at left back.
West Ham started cautiously as they tried to get used to a bumpy pitch in Romania and it was Astra who had the first couple of efforts, though they were well wide of the mark.
The Hammers went close on nine minutes when Noble’s cross picked out Calleri only for him to head wide, while three minutes later they went even closer when Gokhan Tore’s corner was headed goalwards by Michail Antonio, looking much more comfortable further forward, only for Felipe Teixera to clear off his own line.
Enner Valencia headed another Tore cross over the bar, but Astra were having their moments too, particularly down the left wing where Teixera was giving Sam Byram a tough time.
His shot was spilled by Darren Randolph but cleared to safety, while the West Ham keeper also had to deal with Ionita’s free kick following Oxford’s foul on the edge of the box.
West Ham looked the side with more of a cutting edge though and they went close again when another Tore corner was headed towards the goal by Calleri only for keeper Lung to stick out a hand and push it wide.
But from the resulting corner, Antonio went for the cross at the near post, but he was beaten to it by Sapunaru, who inexplicably stuck out his hand to stop the ball.
The referee pointed to the spot and Mark Noble was the coolest man on the park as he strode up and sent the keeper the wrong way to give West Ham the lead as well as vital away goal.
The Hammers started the second half sluggishly as Astra looked to get back into the game. They brought on star striker Alibec to strengthen their attack, and he did force a save from Randolph after getting away on the left side of the area.
Bilic brought on the experienced James Collins as West Ham went to three at the back and Andy Carroll as he looked for goals.
West Ham should have done just that with 10 minutes left. Substitute Marcus Browne made a superb run from his own half, but with just the keeper to beat he squared the ball for the onrushing Antonio, who put his shot into the side netting.
And the Hammers were made to pay for that miss just a minute later. A corner was put in low to the near post and Alibek turned Collins to sweep in the equaliser.
From there it was Astra who looked more likely to grab a winner as Collins had to clear from under his own goal with Randolph clutching at air and West Ham desperately defending to cling on to the draw and take the tie back to the London Stadium next Thursday night level.
ASTRA: Lung, Vangjeli (Alibec,57), Alves, Fabricio, Junior Morais, Sapunaru, Lovin, Ionita (Florea, 85), Seto, Filipe Teixeira (Balaure, 90), Niculae.
Subs: Gavrilas (GK), Oros, Mansaly, Stan.
WEST HAM: Randolph, Byram, Oxford, Ogbonna, Burke, Antonio, Obiang, Noble, Tore (Browne, 75), Valencia (Collins 62), Calleri (Carroll, 62).
Unused subs: Adrian, Reid, Kouyate,Fletcher.
Booked: Byram, Oxford.