West Ham 3 FC Lusitans 0
The Slaven Bilic era at West Ham got off to a predictable winning start as stiker Diafra Sakho sharpened his sword for the new season with two first half goals.
It was never going to a mountain to climb against FC Lusitans of Andorra in this first qualifying round of the Europa Cup. So it proved.
The second leg next week will rubber stamp West Ham’s place in the next phase of this gruelling process to make the Europa League proper.
It could, should have been a bigger margin , but it was a decent display by the Hammers considering most English teams only just started pre- season training yet.
Certainly Slaven Bilic must have been satisfied with the attitude his players showed. Without sweating it out on a sultry, humid night, they applied themselves well against opponents who initially showed a a head of steam but then run out of it.
Just before the kick off Bilic, with Hammers scarf draped around his shoulder, was presented to the fans.
As the big man took a few strides onto the pitch the applause and cheers were resounding. Rafa Benitez might well have been the board’s number one choice before Real Madrid came in but one gets the feeling that Bilic was the choice of hardcore fans.
And how they tuned out in their numbers the Boleyn Ground in this its last year before the move to Olympic Stadium . A full house was a fantastic turn out considering the time of the year and the early stage of this potentially marathon and oft maligned competition.
As promised Bilic after milking the acclaim with a broad smile and clapping the crowd, took a seat in the stand so he could assess the mixture of first teamers on their way back from injury and youngsters, while development coach held the fort in the dug out.
A sensible move as Bilic, who flew back from the first team training camp in Cork, seeks over the coming four weeks to assess as many players as he can before the PL season kicks off at Arsenal on August.
In that respect this soon turned out to be a better test than had been expected well in the first half at least.
FC Lusistans are a part time outfit from the tiny principality in the Catalan region of Spain, but far from being a Sunday morning outfit they looked sharp , well organized , and from time to time prepared to put their foot in in the opening phase .
At times cynical too as young Reece Oxford …at 16 becoming the youngest ever Hammer to appear in a competitive for the club…found out in the 26th minute when he was suckered into a rash challenge by Aguilar who then made a meal of it.
Oxford was shown the yellow card. Welcome the men’s football sunshine. But after a nervy start the England under 17 skipper playing as one of two deep lying midfielders along side Diego Poyet gradually started to show flashes of his ability to pull the strings.
It was Poyet though who was the more impressive and even if the club are on the verge of signing Alex Song on a permanent deal, Gus Poyet’s son, looks to be ready to be in contention for a place in the first team on this evidence.
After a difficult opening first half and hour it was Poyet who carved out the first real opening when he showed the vision to spray the ball wide to Morgan Amalfatino, who crossed first time but from close range Sakho headed over.
But Sakho who missed much of the second half of the season with injury found his range in the 40th minute when Mauro Zarate, back at the club after former manager Sam Allardyce ignored him them farmed him out to QPR last season, out to impress Bilic , showed good skill then put over an excellent deep cross which Sakho did well to reach with his head and hammer into the top corner.
Then just before the half time whistle Zarate showed more fine footwork to release Amalfatino who crossed for Sakho to sweep home.
That will have boosted the club’s top scorer with 10 last season he is over his injury woes.
That broke the resistance of Lusitans and in the 55th minute James Tomkins headed home from close range.
That gave Westley the chance to try out some more experiments from the bench and look at Oxford at centre back.
In the end it became a bit of stroll but what more could anyone , even Bilic, expect at this rudely early stage of the new season ?
It was a job well done if not the goalfest many of the Hammers fans who had come out en masse had hope for. Perhaps in a way that was a good thing for Bilic. There’s no point in expectations reaching fever pitch in mid summer heat. It’s where West Ham under him will be mid season which will be more relevant.
Teams ( 4-2-2-1-1) Randolph 6 O’Brien 6 Tomkins 7 Burke 6 ( Cullen 58 6 ) Page 7 : Poyet 7 Oxford 6 : Amalafitano 7 Jarvis 5 : Zarate 7 (Parfitt-Williams 6 ) : Sakho 8( Lee 61 …6)