|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
West Ham welcome Slaven Bilic with easy victory over Lusitans
David Hytner at Upton Park
Published Thursday 2 July 2015 22.10 BST
It was five minutes before kick-off when the Upton Park crowd bellowed what would be the loudest roar of the evening. Out from the tunnel and to a prize fighter’s introduction came Slaven Bilic, the new West Ham United manager.
The evening was not really about him. He was not even in charge of the team for this Europa League first round qualifying tie, having handed that responsibility to Terry Westley, the Academy manager. And yet his presence transcended the occasion.
Bilic was the man that the fans had come to welcome and this was, unmistakably, the beginning of a new era – one that the club hope will see them grow in stature before their move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016-17.
European football is a big part of it, too. West Ham last tasted continental competition in the 2006 Uefa Cup, when they were ejected in the first round by Palermo, but they took sound steps upon their return.
The Andorran part-timers of Lusitans, whose home stadium holds 900 and who brought 82 fans to east London, offered little opposition and West Ham cantered to their victory. They had to wait until the 40th minute for Diafra Sakho’s breakthrough but this was a mismatch on every level.
Bilic watched from the stands and he could be happy at the workout which was provided, as much as anything else. The abiding image, though, was that of him wearing a claret-and-blue scarf and waving to the crowd beforehand, as bubbles floated across the pitch.
In his first programme notes Bilic had articulated the hope that this would be “the start of a very special journey” and it was certainly the start of a very long one. Thirty-nine days had elapsed since the end of the Premier League season, multiple British tennis players are still involved at Wimbledon and yet here we were, kicking off the new campaign. West Ham must get through three further two-legged ties just to reach the group phase of this bloated competition.
It was vaguely unreal. Upton Park was sold out in anticipation of Bilic’s debut, yet nobody was entirely sure as to whether this truly represented his first game in charge. Would it go on his record? It surely should, given that the Croat was appointed as the successor to Sam Allardyce on 9 June.
Then again, he had designated control of the team to Westley, who had picked four youngsters in the starting lineup, including Reece Oxford. At 16 years and 198 days, the defensive midfielder became the club’s youngest ever first-team player.
There had been the pre-match hunt for a definitive clue. Who had signed the team-sheet? Bilic or Westley? It was neither. James Tomkins, the captain, did the honours.
The absence of names on the back of the players’ shirts added to the unusual feel of the occasion, while the half-and-half scarves on sale outside the ground before kick-off were the last word in niche collectibles.
Predictably, it was one-way traffic. Lusitans kept men behind the ball and they were uncompromising in the challenge – to put it politely. Tempers flared at times and Oxford was booked for a tackle midway through the first half, which José Antonio Aguilar rather made the most of. West Ham’s breakthrough came when Diafra Sakho nodded in from Mauro Zárate’s cross and the second followed Zárate’s lovely flick and Morgan Amalfitano’s pull-back, which Sakho blasted home.
The home crowd were annoyed by Lusitans’ play-acting but there was little else to trouble them. Their team enjoyed total dominance and Tomkins added the third with a second-half header. The 19-year-old substitute, Josh Cullen, was denied a fourth in stoppage time when his long-range shot hit the crossbar.