Hammers draw with Sturm Graz II in Austria
West Ham United 0-0 SK Sturm Graz II
Pre-season match, Thermenstadion, Bad Waltersdorf, Austria, Monday 17 July 2017
West Ham United kicked off their pre-season schedule with a 0-0 draw against Sturm Graz II in Bad Waltersdorf on Monday evening.
Despite creating several chances in both halves, Slaven Bilic’s men couldn’t find a breakthrough up against young and spirited opponents.
More pleasing for the Hammers boss, however, was the fact that 22 of his players came through the encounter unscathed and made a positive step forward in their fitness programme during the eleven-day training camp out in Austria.
Bilic went with a blend of youth and experience in each half, as he gave every fit member of his squad a 45-minute run-out.
Debutant Pablo Zabaleta started at right-back in a 4-5-1 formation, with Ashley Fletcher up top supported by Andre Ayew from the left and Robert Snodgrass wide on the right.
The youthful Austrians, who play in the third tier Regionalliga Mitte, began brightly and had an effort chalked off for offside in the eighth minute, before the Hammers began to find their rhythm and dictate the tempo, with Zabaleta and Arthur Masuaku getting forward at every opportunity.
In the 15th minute, young midfielder Nathan Holland found an opening on the right but saw his clipped effort deflected just wide by a defender. Ten minutes later, Holland went close again, as his left-foot strike from the edge of the box was parried by goalkeeper Tobias Schutzenauer and Ayew could only divert the rebound back into his arms.
On the half-hour mark, Sturm broke away on the counter-attack and created their best chance of the half, but winger Romano Schmid saw his low effort saved by the legs of Adrian.
As the half wore on, Hammers’ experience began to tell and Sturm had Schutzenauer to thank for keeping the score goalless, as the keeper made two excellent point-blank stops from Ayew in the space of four minutes.
The final chance of the half came when Holland was fouled on the edge of the box, but skipper Mark Noble saw his curling free-kick deflected over the bar.
The interval saw the full eleven changes to Bilic’s team, with Aaron Cresswell taking over the captain’s armband from Noble, Spanish striker Toni Martinez taking over from Fletcher at centre forward, and youngsters Declan Rice, Josh Cullen and Moses Makasi getting a taste of the action.
Lanzini began to make his class show almost immediately, pulling the strings in midfield alongside Edimilson Fernandes, and the Argentinian almost opened the scoring five minutes into the second half with a well-struck volley that was blocked by Schutzenauer, who was replaced shortly after by substitute keeper Christopher Giuliani.
Cullen – back from his season-long loan at Bradford City last year – also looked bright and had a low shot deflected wide in the 64th minute, before the Austrians hit on the break again minutes later and fired just past Darren Randolph’s post.
With 20 minutes remaining, Sofiane Feghouli saw a decent opening come to nothing when he headed Fernandes’ blocked shot on to the roof of the net, and seven minutes later Lanzini was presented with a free-kick opportunity 25 yards out but curled his effort over.
As the game edged towards its closing stages, only the Hammers looked like finding a breakthrough, but with Giuliani making a couple of brave interventions, Sturm Graz II managed to hold on for a share of the spoils.
For Bilic, the first step on a road that leads to Old Trafford on 13 August was navigated safely and provided the ideal physical test at this stage.
Next up for the Hammers is an all-English clash with Championship club Fulham on Thursday evening, with coverage from the Thermenstadion starting at 5.55pm BST on Premier Sports. Fans can also follow the game on Twitter at @westhamutd.
West Ham United: Adrian (Randolph 46), Zabaleta (Byram 46), Collins (Rice 46), Burke (Ogbonna 46), Masuaku (Cresswell 46), Noble (c) (Cullen 46), Obiang (Makasi 46), Holland (Fernandes 46), Snodgrass (Lanzini 46), Ayew (Feghouli (46), Fletcher (Martinez 46)