Monday 23 April 2018

West Ham dumped out of Europe but there is joy for Southampton


Manuel Lanzini of West Ham United, centre, celebrates scoring a goal during the Europa League, third qualifying round, second leg soccer match against Astra Giurgiu, in Giurgiu, Romania
Manuel Lanzini of West Ham United, centre, celebrates scoring a goal during the Europa League, third qualifying round, second leg soccer match against Astra Giurgiu, in Giurgiu, Romania

Slaven Bilic watched from the stands as his Europa League gamble ended with West Ham going bust and crashing out to Astra Giurgiu.

The Hammers boss left a host of first-team players at home ahead of this tie - despite the fact it was hanging in the balance following a 2-2 draw at Upton Park a week ago.

Bilic was sent to the stands late on in that game and was not in the dugout as his Romanian roll of the dice did not see his side come up trumps - with Astra captain Constantin Budescu scoring twice in four first-half minutes to cancel out Manuel Lanzini's early opener and seal a memorable 2-1 win for the hosts.

Hammers debutant Lanzini, who had already delivered a tempting free-kick and a corner which led to Kevin Nolan's effort being hacked off the line, collected the ball and his low shot squeezed in off the post with just two and half minutes gone.

But Astra proved last week that they can be a potent attacking force and almost levelled when the busy Budescu's whipped free-kick caught out Darren Randolph in the West Ham goal and came back off the crossbar.

It was a different outcome when he next had a sight of goal as the 26-year-old collected the ball before driving forward unchallenged and arrowing a low 25-yard effort out of Randolph's reach.

West Ham's young defence had started well but the leveller seemed to knock their confidence and Budescu was on hand to capitalise on some indecisiveness at a cross as he finished coolly to put the home team in charge at the interval.

As many as six of the visitors' starting line-up have never appeared in the Barclays Premier League for West Ham - while defensive duo Doneil Henry and Kyle Knoyle and new signing Lanzini were making their club debuts.

Bilic had no obvious options on the bench as his experimental side toiled in the humidity inside the Marin Anastasovici Stadium, with skipper Nolan coming close on the hour mark as he looked to inspire those around him.

It was Astra who started to threaten again as the second half wore on and Fernando Boldrin almost followed up his goal from the opening leg with another here, only for Randolph to tip his effort behind.

Lanzini stung the palms of Silvu Lung with West Ham's first effort of note since the break, but there were only 12 minutes remaining and his side looked bereft of ideas.

Randolph was the busier of the two goalkeepers and was again at his best to push away two late Denis Alibec shots - but his team-mates could not find the equaliser they needed to force extra time and dreams of a lengthy European campaign to mark the final season at Upton Park came to an abrupt and feeble conclusion.


Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman's return to Vitesse Arnhem was a painful one, but at least the Southampton manager can take some comfort in his side's safe passage to the Europa League play-offs.

Few expected Saints to come a cropper in Holland after winning last week's first leg 3-0, yet the Dutchman still named a strong side such was his desire to overcome the club with whom he began his managerial career.

That approach paid off as Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane struck to secure a 2-0 triumph, giving Koeman something to smile about after rupturing his Achilles on the eve of the third qualifying round tie.

The Dutchman looks likely to stay in his homeland to have an operation before Sunday's Premier League opener at Newcastle, making him an injury doubt for the trip to St James' Park.

It will be interesting to see how Saints fare in the north east after the trip to Arnhem, where progression was all but wrapped up by Pelle's classy, fourth-minute strike.

Vitesse threatened to net on a number of occasions but Koeman's men held firm and Mane scored late in a match which witnessed Jay Rodriguez's return to competitive football after 16 months out with a serious knee injury.

It was a positive end the day after unsavoury clashes between fans beforehand, with police storming in after glasses, chairs and punches were thrown in the city centre.

Tempers appeared to have settled by the time play got under way - a match in which things could scarcely have started better for the visitors.

Dusan Tadic's whipped cross found James Ward-Prowse, with Pelle taking the ball and turning before sending a low, left-footed strike past Eloy Room.

It was the ideal start from Saints in warm, testing conditions against spirited Vitesse, whose fans were frustrated when Milot Rashica lost marker Steven Caulker at a corner only to shoot into the ground and over.

Maikel van der Werff saw a hopeful, long-range strike tipped over by Maarten Stekelenburg, who was again in the way to thwart Valeri Qazaishvili.

Rashica proved a handful and claimed a penalty off Cuco Martina, but Saints were looking comfortable and only Room's intervention denied Mane after a clever flick before Pelle bundled wide.

Kazaishvili saw a low effort saved after a subdued start to the second half and Maya Yoshida produced a fine block to deny Rashica as Vitesse tried to claw one back either side of a low Steven Davis cross which just evaded Ward-Prowse.

There was an exhibition feel about the second-half, making this a sensible time to bring Rodriguez on for his first competitive appearance in 16 months.

Welcomed by a standing ovation from Saints fans, he came close to repaying them with a stinging 30-yard drive shortly before Denys Oliynyk almost latched onto a low cross from close range.

There was to be a late goal but it would be Southampton's as Mane robbed Chelsea loanee Danilo Pantic and ran on goal, with his low shot beating Room.

Victor Wanyama forced a late save but there was not to be another 3-0 win for Saints.

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