Tomkins snatches win for Hammers
Published 16/07/2015 | 22:42
James Tomkins' scrappy goal in the 90th minute saved West Ham's blushes with a 1-0 win over Birkirkara in the Europa League second qualifying round first leg clash at Upton Park.
With manager Slaven Bilic in the Boleyn Ground dugout for the first time since his summer appointment, the Irons were expected to make short work of the Maltese Cup winners, having seen off FC Lusitans of Andorra 4-0 on aggregate in the first round.
However, despite naming a strong starting XI - which included the likes of captain Kevin Nolan, goalkeeper Adrian, defenders Winston Reid and Tomkins, with Morgan Amalfitano, Mauro Zarate and Modibo Maiga in attack - the Irons were left frustrated as the visitors dug in.
But just when it looked like the tie would end goalless, Tomkins bundled the ball into the net following a corner to give the Barclays Premier League side the slenderest of leads to protect in next Thursday's away leg.
Aberdeen were far more convincing as they gave themselves a massive boost with a 3-0 first-leg win over Rijeka at the Stadion Kantrida.
Such a result seemed unlikely in the early stages as the Croatian side, aiming to reach the group stage of the tournament for the third year running, dominated possession from the first whistle and squandered a host of chances - the closest of which saw Marin Tomasov strike a post.
But defender Andrew Considine headed the Dons in front against the run of play in the 38th minute from a Niall McGinn corner.
There was more joy soon after the break when midfielder Peter Pawlett, denied a goal for offside just before the break, headed in a Shay Logan cross.
Substitute Kenny McLean increased the lead further in the 75th minute with a close-range volley to give Derek McInnes' side what should be an unassailable lead ahead of the return game at Pittodrie.
In contrast, fellow Scottish Premiership side Inverness experienced a painful lesson on their introduction to European football after falling to a dead-ball goal against the run of play against Romanian side Astra.
Caley Thistle made a good start but lost 1-0 following a 24th-minute strike by Constantin Budescu.
Linfield kept alive their hopes of progressing thanks to a battling 2-1 defeat to Spartak Trnava.
The Slovakian side took the lead with a penalty from captain Erik Sabo. David Kee levelled soon after with a superb free-kick from the edge of the box but Martin Mikovic restored his side's lead from close range.
Milos Nikolic was sent off for a second yellow card just before half-time but the Blues could not add to their tally.
Newtown perhaps faced the most difficult task of the British sides and came away from FC Copenhagen with pride intact but still facing a two-goal deficit to overturn in the second leg.
The Welsh Premier League side got off to the worst possible start at the Parken Stadium when Ben Verbic struck for the hosts after three minutes. But Newtown refused to crumble and it took until the 74th minute for Kasper Kusk to double Copenhagen's lead.
UCD only went down 1-0 away at Slovan Bratislava, Adam Zrelak scoring the only goal, while Shamrock Rovers were beaten 2-0 at home by Odd. Olivier Occean netted twice for the Norwegians, the first from the penalty spot.