Slaven - It's a good, but not great result

  • Manager reflects on 1-1 UEFA Europa League play-round draw away at Astra Giurgiu
  • Hammers took the lead through Mark Noble's penalty before being pegged back
  • Missed chances and conceding from a set play frustrate Bilic

Slaven Bilic admitted West Ham United had missed a big chance to all but secure their passage to the UEFA Europa League group stage in Romania.

The Hammers took the lead in their play-off round tie at Astra Giurgiu through Mark Noble’s penalty on the stroke of half-time.

West Ham weathered the hosts’ storm after the break and looked set to take an away-goal lead back to London, only for Romania international substitute Denis Alibec to climb off the bench to lash in a late equaliser.

“We are disappointed with the equaliser because we probably had the game under control,” said Bilic. “They put us under pressure and took risks, which gave us space up front.

“They scored a good goal, but from a set piece which is cheap from our point of view. And it made it especially hard to take because a couple of minutes before we had a clear-cut chance when Marcus Browne went on a great counter-attack.

“We should have scored and put the game to bed, but we didn’t and it’s 1-1 so we’re not happy with the result, but it’s not a bad result because we had a mixed team. It’s not a great result but it’s a good result and I’m confident about next week.”

With Reece Burke and Reece Oxford impressing at the back and Michail Antonio charging up and down the left wing, West Ham played positively for long periods in the first half.

Noble was on the money from 12 yards as usual, curling West Ham into a deserved lead after Romania midfielder Cristian Sapunaru had handled Gokhan Tore’s corner. That is now 28 successful penalties out of 31 in Claret and Blue for the skipper – a record which surprised the manager.

However, Astra upped the ante late on, throwing on burly striker Alibec, who lashed home moments after Marcus Browne and Antonio had contrived to miss a golden opportunity to make it 2-0.

“It surprised me because I would not have known he has taken so many,” said Bilic of his captain’s penalty record. “I don’t want to say it out loud but the way he is taking them is really impressive and hopefully he is going to continue like this. The way he takes penalties, he should shoot more!

“We got ahead and then they put two strikers on and took risks and they put us under pressure in the last 20 minutes, but they left space and we had a great, great chance, but unfortunately we missed it.

“As I said, we have a good result and with the greatest respect to them we should beat them, but we still have to do it. Anything can happen in one game, of course, but we are hungry to play in European football.”

Bilic was also asked for his thoughts about two forwards who have had contrasting fortune over the last few days – new boy and debutant Jonathan Calleri and the injured Ghana star Andre Ayew, who faces a significant time out with a thigh injury.

“We wanted to introduce him in this game and not wait for Bournemouth, we had a couple of injuries and we wanted to save Andy Carroll and Jonathan played good. He had one really good chance and their goalkeeper saved it brilliantly,” the manager observed.

“He doesn’t know the players and all that because he’s only been here a short time and all that, but he showed great quality.

“With Andre, we know he is our record signing and he is out for four months and it’s a big blow, but the time will pass and he’s a good healer. He is very professional and he’s going to be back later on this year, we hope.

“It’s not the first time for us and we’ll show character and that’s what makes us such a good team.”