Astra end West Ham’s Europa League ambitions

Filipe Teixeira’s goal late in the first half sends Romanina side into Friday’s draw

Astra Giurgiu’s Filipe Teixeira slides the ball past West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph during the Uefa Europa league playoff second leg at London Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Astra Giurgiu’s Filipe Teixeira slides the ball past West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph during the Uefa Europa league playoff second leg at London Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire

 

West Ham 0 Astra Giurgiu 1 (Astra win 2-1 on agg)

All that hard work last season was for nothing. So were all those draining qualifying games this summer. West Ham United’s attempt to reach the group stage of the Europa League ended in frustration against Astra Giurgiu for the second successive year after the Romanians became the first visiting side to win at the London Stadium.

This defeat was largely of West Ham’s own making. Slaven Bilic’s side conceded a sloppy goal, let themselves down with some generous finishing and saw Silviu Lung make several outstanding saves in the Astra goal. The only consolation is that a fee has been agreed with Juventus for Simone Zaza; how they could have done with the Italy striker here.

The nagging concern for West Ham was the knowledge they should have left Romania in a vastly superior position last week, only for Astra to equalise moments after a glaring miss from Michail Antonio.

The contest was in the balance after that swing in momentum and although Astra have made a slow start to the season, winning one of their first five league matches, the Romanian champions’ belief they could repeat their victory over West Ham in qualifying last year looked justified when Filipe Teixeira put them ahead on aggregate on the stroke of half-time.

West Ham’s task was complicated by the absence of nine players, meaning that Bilic was unable to name his strongest side yet again, and the relentless injury setbacks have hurt most in the attacking areas. This was a game too soon for Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet and West Ham’s football can often be prosaic without their creative spark.

They started brightly, however, and should have taken an early lead when Reece Burke controlled a long ball with an expert touch before producing a piercing through ball that released Jonathan Calleri behind the Astra defence.

Yet the whole sequence seemed to catch Calleri by surprise. The Argentinian striker took too long to make up his mind and sort out his feet, allowing Silviu Lung to save his attempted scoop.

Astra, who lost 5-1 to CFR Cluj on Sunday, were rattled for a while but the game became bitty and West Ham required an injection of energy long before the visitors caught them with a sucker punch. It was an utterly avoidable goal, stemming from a West Ham attack that broke down when Sam Byram put Burke into difficulties with a poor pass from right to left. Burke’s heavy headed touch invited a tackle and West Ham were exposed when the left back sold himself, leaving his fellow defenders outnumbered as Astra countered.

With both full backs out of position, Teixeira broke behind Byram and coolly gave Astra control for the first time in the tie. West Ham, who presented Edimilson Fernandes on the pitch before kick-off after completing the €6.5 million signing of the Swiss midfielder from FC Sion, were crying out for inspiration and Bilic reacted by bringing on Enner Valencia for Havard Nordtveit, who could have been more assertive in midfield during the build-up to Teixeira’s goal, with Daniel Niculae granted too much space in the middle.

The introduction of Valencia allowed Bilic to switch his system from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 and meant that Calleri, who was far too isolated during the first half, had a partner in attack.

Yet the change was only going to work with better service from the flanks. Antonio was having a quiet game on the left, while Gokhan Töre was drifting in and out on the right.

Töre is a frustrating player, flickers of promise fizzling out on too many occasions, yet the Turkish winger created Antonio’s winner against Bournemouth with a fine cross and West Ham should have equalised when he found Calleri unmarked with a curling delivery.

Yet this was not to be Calleri’s evening. Six yards out, his mistimed header was tipped wide by Lung and that was his final contribution. Ashley Fletcher replaced him.

West Ham had to play with more intensity. This was their first real test in their new stadium and the crowd knew it, roars of encouragement filling the air.

Ashley Fletcher, a summer signing from Manchester United, showed no fear. The young forward troubled Astra with his direct running, appealing for a penalty after a risky tackle from Teixeira, and a superb save from Lung denied him his first West Ham goal, which would have forced extra time.

(Guardian service)

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