|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
James Tomkins leaves it late to hand West Ham slender lead over Birkirkara
Jacob Steinberg at Upton Park
datePublished Thursday 16 July 2015 22.08 BST
Yet Bilic was content, if not ecstatic, after he stood in the technical area at Upton Park for the first time and saw James Tomkins end Birkirkara’s stubborn resistance by bundling in the only goal in the 90th minute. Although West Ham’s stuttering forwards banged their heads against the Birkirkara brick wall for long periods, Bilic’s side have a slender lead to take to Malta for the second leg of their Europa League second round qualifier next Thursday.
West Ham’s lack of inspiration against such stubborn opponents should not be cause for concern. Bilic knows that this was far from his strongest side and that there will be improvement once he can call upon his new signings, Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna, Pedro Obiang and Carl Jenkinson, who joined on loan from Arsenal earlier this week. West Ham’s squad remains a work in progress, although Bilic is disappointed that he has lost Stewart Downing, who completed his £5m return to Middlesbrough on Thursday.
“I didn’t want him to go, he’s a quality player,” Bilic said. “We know how hard it is to get quality. That’s why I rate him. First half of last season, he was brilliant and I was counting on him big time. He came to me when we were in Cork and said he would like to go home. He said ‘I like you but I want to go home, if it was any other club, I wouldn’t go’. I wasn’t that happy. What is important is he wanted to leave.”
Downing was a revelation as a No10 last season and West Ham laboured without him. Yet Bilic was satisfied with their persistence. “At this stage of the pre-season, I was pleased, especially with the first half,” he said. “I think we deserved more than 1-0. It’s not job done, of course. We have respect.”
Bilic made a point of showing respect to Birkirkara. In the previous round, Bilic infuriated the manager of Lusitans, Xavi Roura, by sitting in the stands and leaving Terry Westley, West Ham’s academy manager, in charge against the Andorran part-timers.
West Ham did not take Birkirkara lightly. They had to be patient. Birkirkara’s intentions were clear: their Italian manager, Giovanni Tedesco, wanted them to stifle and contain, their hopes of a precious away goal mostly resting on the veteran shoulders of the former Benfica and Juventus striker Fabrizio Miccoli.
After soaking up West Ham’s pressure in the first half, Birkirkara came out of their shell a little after the break and a rare counterattack ended with Liliu flashing a shot wide.
West Ham were missing a spark. With Diafra Sakho suspended, Modibo Maïga started up front and although he almost scored twice in the first half, there were ironic cheers when the Malian striker was replaced by Elliot Lee.
Mauro Zárate ran down blind alleys, Matt Jarvis flattered to deceive and Kevin Nolan was booed. The relief was considerable when Justin Haber, Birkirkara’s nervy goalkeeper, missed Zárate’s corner and Tomkins made no mistake at the far post.