The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Updated (5): West Ham need penalty shoot-out to eliminate brave Birkirkara

Thursday, 23 July 2015, 20:48 Last update: about 4 years ago

Birkirkara FC: J. Haber, E. Marcelina (K. Zammit), M. Mazzetti, P. Fenech, R. Camenzuli, F. Miccoli (V. Plut), N. Vukanac, Liliu, J. Zerafa, Z. Muscat, R. Muscat (E. Agius)

West Ham: Adrian, A. Cresswsell, K. Nolan (D. Poyet), J. Tomkins, M. Jarvis, C. Kouyate, M. Zarate, M. Noble, J. O’Brien, J. Collins, M. Amalfitano (M. Maiga)

Referee: E. Jorgji (Albania)

Scorers: F. Miccoli 15,

Yellow cards: F. Miccoli, M. Noble, N. Vukanac, V. Plut, M. Mazzetti, E. Agius

Red cards: J. Tomkins, M. Mazzetti

Attendance:15,257

 

SILVIO VELLA

English Premier side West Ham might have been everyone’s favourites to advance to the next round of the Europa League but they were made to sweat much harder than expected, not only because of the high temepratures of a Maltese summer night, to overcome a gallant test of character from local side Birkirkara FC.

Seven days after seeing his side dominate the first leg at Upton Park, West Ham coach Bilic was forced to endure defeat yesterday and will consider his side lucky to have avoided a surprise elimination after being stretched to a penalty shoot-out.

It was only Vukanac’s miss from the third Birkirkara penalty that marred Birkirkara’s memorable showing.

The way West Ham progressed, will prompt some bout of soul-searching as the team fell short of his usual standards yesterday and there was nothing convincing about their performance.

While the Hammers’ inquest in this competition could go on and on, Birkirkara deserve immense credit for the way they mustered this match. Birkirkara played with courage and conviction and even won the game deservingly in normal time, handing West Ham their first defeat in four competitive games since Slaven Bilic was appointd manager in June.

The only regret was perhaps the fact that Birkirkara failed to exploit their numerical superiority in the second half, especially when the West Ham players  looked distinctly nervous whenever the Birkirkara forwards ran at them.

A finely-poised tie saw the second-leg crowd exceed 15,000 at Ta’ Qali National Stadium yesterday, creating a lovely, boisterous atmosphere, dampened only by Vukanac’s miss in the penalty shoot out.

Birkirkara had shown from the start that they fancied their chances although playing against opponents 200 places above them in the UEFA’s club rankings.

Birkirkara made only one change in their starting line-up from the first leg. Their latest addition Emerson Marcelina played instead of Edin Murga, in front of a four-man backline. Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat and Fabrizio Miccoli all passed a late fitness test.

West Ham coach Slaven Bilic also tweaked his side for the return match, dropping Winston Reid and Modibo Maiga and gave starts to Senegalese central midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and central defender James Collins instead.

Birkirkara made a confident start. Miccoli was blocked by O’Brien just outside the West Ham area, as he tried to connect to Fenech’s cross, after only three minutes.

On a Miccoli free kick, the ball bounced dangerously inside the West Ham area but the defednce cleared into a corner before Zach Muscat could connect.

Until then, West Ham had shown no urgency, when enjoying a first-leg slender lead, thanks to Tomkins’ 90th minute goal, and tried to spare some energy in the evening’s heat.

They only threatened mildly, short of the quarter hour, forcing a couple of corners and a low Jarvis shot which keeper Haber saved on the ground.

But they were completely taken aback by Birkirkara’s opener on the quarter hour. Liliu went past Collins as he chased a through pass down the right flank, crossed low and the experienced Fabrizio Miccoli demonstarted all his experience by stretching his leg to steer the ball past keeper Adrian and level the tie on aggregate.

Birkirkara retreated further after that goal and handed the initiative to their opponents for the remainder of the half. West Ham, however, did not pass the ball with enough creativity and rarely looked menacing except from their wing play, with some high crosses from the right which the Birkirkara rearguard capably dealt with. Maurico Mazzetti was hugely influential at the back. Ryan Camenzuli and Rowen Muscat provided an extra barrier in midfield as Liliu featured in most of Birkirkara’s best work.

The Stripes were given a boost four minutes before the break as West Ham’s James Tomkins was sent off for retaliation on Vukanac. The Birkirkara defender was marking Tomkins inside the Birkirkara area as West Ham were about to take a free kick from the right.

With a man up, Birkirkara went into the second half in a more lively fashion and showed no sense of inferiority against superior opponents. The locals were finding more space when breaking forward and West Ham were forced to give away some unwarranted corners.

Towards the hour, Bilic introduced Diego Poyet and Modibo Maiga in a double substitution for the visitors. Soon after Birkirkara coach Tedesco pulled off Rowen Muscat, to be replaced by Edmond Aguis.

Not that it changed much tactically but on a Noble through pass, Jarvis forced keeper Haber to palm out his inswinger on 69 minutes.

Vito Plut substituted Miccoli, visibly showing signs of fatigue, for the last quarter hour. Shots from a distance by Plut and Fenech failed to hit the target.

Birkirkara’s resistance remained steadfast when two minutes before normal time, Cresswell hit his free kick against the Birkirkara wall.

With the aggregate score tied up at 1-1 after 90 minutes, the game went into extra time.

Both sides looked drained of ideas and the extra half hour provided little excitement, bar a Jarvis low drive that took a wicked deflection into a corner and an Agius curling efforft that was well blocked by keeper Adrian.

Early at the start of the second period, Birkirkara’s defender Mazzetti also received his marching orders for a second booking, after unnecessary protests.

 

Going for the penalty shoot-out, Fenech and Plut had scored for Birkirkara after Noble, Zarate and Cresswell had netted for West Ham, before Vukanac skied his shot. O’Brien and Agius then scored their penalties with Poyet finally scoring the decisive spot kick to give West Ham some scant consolation on the night.


Photos Jonathan Borg

 


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