West Ham United left it late in their second Europa League Qualifier this evening, a 90th minute goal from James Tomkins was all that separated West Ham from Birkirkara at the end of the game. A result which the hosts will rue, and, although bitter to lose it at the end, the Maltese side will be quite happy with.
This was Slaven Bilic's first game in charge of the side at Upton Park, after their 3-3 draw at Peterborough last weekend. Bilic looked to rotate the side, this time, bringing in a lot more experienced players into the side for this second qualifying-round game. Although the introducing of senior players was announced prior to the game, the club fell just shy of selling out like they did in the last round - the attendance was at 33,048
The side who finished third in Maltese's League last season, were evidently happy to try and escape East London with a point - and - it seemed as though they were going to succeed for the most part. They even had a couple of chances themselves on the break, of which, ex-Benfica and Juventus striker, Fabrizio Miccoli was instrumental in.
Hammers On Top
Although the Hammer's were on top for the whole of the first half, the closest they came was through two attempts on goal from Modibo Maiga. One of which came after a good passing move saw his shot palmed onto the post by Birkirkara's goalkeeper Justin Haber. Captain Kevin Nolan also went close after Haber - who looked to punch any cross, shot, or ball back to him - misjudged the ball leaving Nolan to fire just wide with an ambitious overhead kick.
The second half begun, with the scores at 0-0 and shortly after the half began, it was evident that West Ham would continue to struggle to create a clear goal scoring opportunity. As the half wore on, Birkirkara began to grow in confidence, even, bringing on a second striker - and - towards the end of the 90 minutes Birkirkara's manager Giovanni Tedesco even started complaining that West Ham were time wasting.
Tomkins To The Rescue
However, the 90th minute brought what was an unlikely winner. Haber again looked unconvincing when coming to collect a corner, he completed missed the ball, and Tomkins was left unmarked at the back post where he simply chested the ball over the line from no more than a few yards out.
West Ham laboured to get through the tie, but, with the goal advantage it will only aid them in the second leg next week on the 23rd - as Birkirkara will have to come at West Ham.
Adrian - 5 - The Spaniard had next to nothing to do all evening.
Joey O'Brien - 6 - Again put in an assured performance, his 40 yard run ended in the first halves best chance too.
Winston Reid - 6 - Not really at all tested at all by a cumbersome Miccoli.
James Tomkins - 7 - Much like his CB partner, there was no real challenge on the defence as a whole, but his goal at the death was vital. Also, his second goal in three Europa League games.
Aaron Cresswell - 6 - Tried his upmost to support his winger, but, his distribution wasn't at his normally very high levels.
Morgan Amalfitano - 5 - Other than curling a shot wide in the first half, he seemed very lethargic, and offered little.
Kevin Nolan (C) - 6 - Had two very good chances to score, other than that his legs just aren't what they used to be.
Mark Noble - 6 - Was culpable of giving the ball away far too easily at times, he struggled to really stamp his authority on the game.
Matt Jarvis - 6 - Again showed what he can do, constantly beat his man, got crosses in, looked lively and was always willing to run his man.
Mauro Zarate - 7 - Looked lively, and showed his class again in flashes. His greed is a huge flaw though, it also led to Birkirkara's best chance when they dispossessed him.
Modibo Maiga - 5 - Other than his two chances, he didn't seem interested. Offered nothing for his midfielders to look to pass to, as such, made the team struggle.
Elliot Lee - 6 - Looked livelier than Maiga, made runs, but didn't get any real chances to score.
Martin Samuelson - 6 - Came on to huge cheers after his impressive display against Peterborough - looked promising again - but couldn' make a telling difference in the midfield.
Diego Poyet - 5 - Only came on for the injured Nolan in the last few minutes.