Tonks breaks Maltese resistance

The Hammers continued their European adventure with a late James Tomkins goal
West Ham United continued their European adventure with a narrow 1-0 win over Maltese outfit Birkirkara thanks to a late James Tomkins finish. 

Despite the Hammers being in firm control throughout, the game looked as though it would remain goalless until Tomkins bundled home Aaron Cresswell’s inswinging corner from close range.  

A near-to-capacity Boleyn Ground was in attendance for Slaven Bilic’s first home game of his new tenure. Welcome chants of ‘Slaven Bilic’s Claret and Blue Army’ could be heard and the fans’ terrific support was rewarded with arguably the strongest available line up. 

The Irons were in near complete control as first Modibo Maiga, and then Morgan Amalfitano fired over in the early exchanges. 

It was the Malian forward Maiga who again went closest to following a well-crafted set-piece. Hammer-of-the-Year Aaron Cresswell’s floated delivery was knocked back across the six-yard box by James Tomkins, Maiga rose highest yet visiting goalkeeper Justin Haber made a great save, punching out for corner. 

It would not be the last save that Haber had to make. 

With the hosts in the ascendancy, they continued to press for an opener. Cresswell tried his luck from 30-yards before Maiga burst forward and fired goal-bound, his effort tipped onto the post by Haber.   

The Maltese side continued to be under siege yet they stood firm and went in at the break level, much to the delight of the travelling fans. The stats told the story: 74% possession, nine shots to none and eleven corners. 

After the break, the Hammers came out with renewed vigour. Livewire midfielder Zarate looked the most likely to make something happen, as did Jarvis who proved to be a persistent threat down the left. 

One of the biggest cheers of the night came as 18-year-old Martin Samuelsen replaced Morgan Amalfitano to make his competitive senior debut. 

The Norwegian netted a fine finish against Peterborough United in his first outing in claret and blue and he looked tidy and composed on the ball.  

There was a brief hearts-in-mouth moment at the visitors broke with pace before Liliu fired toward Adrian’s goal; his effort fell just fractionally wide of the post. A huge sigh of relief rang round E13. 

Tempers began to fray the longer the Hammers’ efforts went unrewarded. Birkirkara showed impressive resilience and guile to frustrate their hosts and their tactics almost worked.  

Another resounding applause greeted Elliot Lee’s arrival, the young striker scored his maiden goal on his full senior debut away in Andorra and he looked busy, trying to double his tally.   

Bilic’s final role of the dice was to bring on Diego Poyet in place of Captain Kevin Nolan who picked up a knock. 

As tiredness set in, the Hammers desire for a goal increased. Lee burst through on goal only to be flagged offside while Noble had a shot blocked heroically. The celebrations from the Birkirkaran defence said it all. 

Debutant Samuelsen looked the most likely to break the deadlock, he twisted and turned majestically but could not find the yard of space he needed. 

The Hammers blushes were spared with just a minute to go as Tomkins doubled his account for the season. 

Advantage Hammers, but all to play for in Malta. 

West Ham United: Adrian, O’Brien, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell, Nolan © (Poyet 79), Noble,
 Jarvis, Amalfitano (Samuelsen 59), Zarate, Maiga (Lee 67)
Substitutes: Randolph (GK), Pike, Collins, Hendrie

Goals: Tomkins 90    

Bookings: O’Brien, Cresswell, Reid

Birkirkara FC: Haber, Mazzetti, Camenzuli, Fenech ©(Zammit 50), Miccoli, Vukanac, Murga (Agius 45), Liliu (Plut 65), Zerafa, Z. Muscat, R. Muscat
Substitutes: Alkpan (GK), Sciberras, D. Zerafa,  Aquilina

Bookings: Z.Muscat

Referee: Markus Hameter

Attendance: 33,048