Advantage with visitors as Hammers let lead slip
By Tom Dowsett
Friday 31 Jul 2015 15:53:00
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West Ham United go to Romania next week, knowing they have to score after letting a 2-0 advantage slip at home to FC Astra Giurgiu on Thursday night.

James Tomkins missed the game through suspension, so Reece Oxford got the call to play in a defence that also included James Collins and summer recruit Angelo Ogbonna. Matt Jarvis, Kevin Nolan and Modibo Maiga all dropped to the bench, as Dimitri Payet made his competitive debut, following his move from Marseille while Slaven Bilic gave Enner Valencia his first start of the season upfront.

West Ham had the better of the opening stages forcing corner after corner but were finding their opponents hard to break down. In fact, it was the visitors who fashioned the first chance of the match on 21 minutes, when William De Amorim almost gave his side the lead but his shot went into the side netting.

The Hammers finally made their pressure pay just two minutes later, as Payet gave the home faithful a glimpse of what he could do, as he delivered a cross over to Valencia who headed past Silviu Lung.

Having grabbed the lead, there was then trouble for the Irons as first, defender Joey O'Brien picked up an injury, meaning he was replaced by Reece Burke. Then seconds later, Bilic had to make his second change, as the goalscorer picked up a knee injury and had to be carried off on a stretcher so Maiga came on in his place.

The home side went close to doubling their lead on 43 minutes, as they were given another corner. Payet took a short one and when it was crossed in, Ogbonna's header looked like it was going in, only for Lung to dive to his left and make an outstanding save.

The East Londoners looked to end the half with a flourish, as shortly after Oxford could have put his side further ahead when he tried to send a cross from the right goalwards but it went just wide.

Three minutes of added time were signalled and in the first of those, Constantin Budescu tried a long-range shot but it was comfortable for Adrian.
The last kick of the half saw Lung come to Astra's rescue again, as Mauro Zarate tried to beat him but the goalkeeper pulled off another spectacular save.

With that, referee Adrien Jaccottet blew the whistle for half-time and the home fans showed how much they had enjoyed the first-half performance, as they claped their team off.

The Hammers started the second-half in the same tempo as they had finished the first and just five minutes in Zarate played in Cheikou Kouyate but his shot was wild and well over.

A minute later however, the Irons made the scoreline more comfortable when Zarate grabbed his first goal at Upton Park, as he got clear of a challenge and ran past the last defender before stroking the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.

On 55 minutes, Collins became the second Hammer booked on the night for stopping an Astra break.

After seeing two players sent off in the previous two ties, on my way up to London yesterday, I jokingly asked my Dad whether he thought we would see a red card in this game and if so, which West Ham player would it go to? Well, on 59 minutes, the hosts did go down to ten men and it was the Welshman who got it, as he perhaps harshly received a second yellow when trying to pull out of a challenge with Budescu. The player Went down and was awarded a freekick.

Budescu took responsibility himself and wasn't too far away, as the ball brushed the top of the net on is way over.

All I ask is, Can we have eleven players on the pitch by the end of the second-leg in Romania next week?

Having the extra man really allowed the visitors to push forward and try to find a way back into the game, and on 71 minutes, they pulled a goal back, as Fernando Boldrin's 25-yard effort bounced off the bar and past Adrian and the majority inside the ground were fearing the worst.

On 76 minutes, Bilic made his final change, as Jarvis took the place of Zarate. The visitors then followed suit, as De Aromim made way for Daniel Florea.

With eight minutes of normal time left to play, Astra levelled as Ogbonna tried to deal with a cross from the left but instead, his touch looped over Adrian's head and into the back of the net.

Astra wanted to try and gain an advantage going into the second-leg and on 89 minutes, they were given a corner but fortunately for the hosts, Adrian was able to punch clear.

As the game entered another three minutes of stoppage time, frustrations among the home players started to boil over, as Payet was booked for dissent after complaining to the referee that an Astra player was given nothing after pushing Maiga over in the area. Bilic was also incensed by the decision and was sent to the stands by the fourth official.

After another three minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle was met with a mixture of boos and cheers from the fans. Cheers for the players but loud boos for the officials. The Hammers have it all to do if they are to progress to the play-off stage.

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