Hammers Edge Past Birkirkara
By Tom Dowsett
Friday 24 Jul 2015 13:45:00
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West Ham United are through to the Europa League third qualifying round but, as we all know, where the Irons are concerned, they never do things easily. Yes, they did knock FC Birkirkara out of the competition, but only after the Maltese side had levelled the tie on aggregate, leaving the Hammers having to book their place in the next stage by coming through a penalty shootout.

Winston Reid picked up a knock in training on Wednesday, so James Collins took his place, while Slaven Bilic decided to bring Cheikou Kouyate into the starting line-up and drop Modibo Maiga to the bench.

Being only 1-0 down after the game at Upton Park last week, the home side were desperate to try and find a way back into the tie and started well.

They had an early chance on 11 minutes, when Kouyate could only half clear a long-throw and the ball was played up to Ryan Camenzuli, who found space to try a shot but fortunately for the visitors, it went over the top.

The East Londoners could have extended the aggregate lead on 13 minutes, as Matt Jarvis found room in the box but placed his weak effort straight at goalkeeper Justin Haber. After they had squandered the chance to make the game safe, the home side levelled, as Liliu broke through the West Ham defence and crossed for Fabrizio Miccoli, who evaded the despairing dive of Joey O'Brien and Slid the ball past Adrian.

On 34 minutes, Mark Noble picked up a booking following his challengeLiliu on Miccoli, referee Enea Jorgji also booked the Italian striker for his reaction.

Three minutes later, Paul Ferench got involved with Noble but unbelievably, he didn't receive any punishment.

With tempers fraying amongst the players, it was likely that one of the teams would go down to ten men before too long.

Unfortunately for the visitors, James Tomkins went from hero in the first-leg to villain here, as the altercation with Nikola Vukanac resulted in the defender receiving a straight red card and the task was made even harder.

The sending off meant that Kouyate had to fill in as a central defender.

With the Hammers a goal down and now a man down When the half-time whistle blew, I bet the players couldn't wait to get into the dressing room.

The second-half started with Birkirkara having the first real chance on 51  minutes. After Adrian dealt with an inswinging corner from Miccoli, the striker then picked up the loose ball and fired a shot wide of the post.

Just after Bilic had replaced Kevin Nolan and Morgan Amalfitano with Diego Poyet and Maiga, West Ham thought they should have had a penalty after Jarvis had been brought down by Vukanac but the appeals were waved away.

Camenzuli tried to put the visitors under pressure again on 67 minutes when he picked the ball up inside the West Ham half but fortunately for Bilic's men, his effort went well over.

Two minutes later, the Hammers wanted another penalty, as Jarvis again felt he was impeded but the referee remained unmoved.

Four minutes of injury time were signalled at the end of the game, but with the scores still level on aggregate, the match headed into extra-time.

The first period of extra-time saw little action with only Jarvis firing a shot wide of the post and on 94 minutes, Vito Plut eased past the Hammers' defence but these only direct his effort wide.

Shortly after the second period had begun, it was ten aside, as Mauricio Mazzetti had also been given his marching orders.

On 111 minutes, the home side screamed for a penalty after Plut thought he had been fouled in the area by Adrian but the Spaniard had clearly got hands on the ball before the player went down.

With the deadlock still to be broken in the match and seemingly heading for penalties, Bilic made his final change replacing Jarvis with Martin Samuelsen.

With a penalty yet to be missed and the Irons 3-2 ahead, Vukanac fired over, meaning the visitors were given a boost.

The next two spot-kicks were converted with ease, meaning Poyet was given the responsibility to grab the winner. He cooly sent Haber the wrong way, leaving the Hammers' fans and players celebrating their progression to the third round where they will face FC Astra Giurgiu of Romania with the first-leg taking place at Upton Park next Thursday evening.

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