Europa League: West Ham scrape past minnows to maintain European ambitions

Ross McLean
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(West Ham win 5-3 on penalties, AET, 1-1 on AGG)

WEST Ham boss Slaven Bilic admitted his side showed their European naivety before edging past Maltese minnows Birkirkara on penalties to reach the Europa League third qualifying round last night.

The Hammers held their nerve from the spot after an uncomfortable evening which started with their slender aggregate lead being cancelled out on 14 minutes by Birkirkara’s veteran former Italy striker Fabrizio Miccoli.

Defender James Tomkins became the second West Ham player to see red in this season’s competition on the stroke of half time, while Birkirkara’s Mauricio Mazzetti was also sent off in extra-time.

The visitors were pitch perfect from the spot as skipper Mark Noble, Mauro Zarate, Aaron Cresswell, Joey O’Brien and then latterly Diego Poyet all successfully converted, while Nikola Vukanac missed for Birkirkara.

“We wasted too much energy in the first half and that is perhaps because we are not experienced in Europe,” said Bilic. “But we didn’t sink and to play 120 minutes and be one man down will be good for the boys’ confidence. It would have been a major blow to be eliminated. It would have been embarrassing but we overcame the circumstances.”

West Ham will now play Romanian side Astra in the next round, with the first leg at Upton Park on Thursday.