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Tomkins saves Bilic’s blushes with late winner

Article by Tom Burford

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James Tomkins bundled home a 90th minute winner from a Mauro Zarate corner to give West Ham a slender lead in their 2nd Round Europa League Qualifier against Birkirkara FC last night.

It was a night of frustration for the Hammers, they just couldn’t find a way through the Birkirkara wall, mostly due to a serious lack of firepower up front. West Ham certainly started the brighter of the two teams with forgotten man Modibo Maiga having a header expertly tipped over the bar from goalkeeper Haber who then pushed the Malian’s long range effort onto the foot of the post minutes later.

At this stage it was looking only a matter of time before the first goal came, but I don’t think the supporters were expecting that time to last until the 90th minute. Multiple counts of time-wasting, persistent fouling and West Ham’s failure to take their chances were the reasons for this, but the 33,000 crowd erupted when Tomkins chested home Mauro Zarate’s corner, which goalkeeper Haber completely misjudged.

Nolan, Noble and Jarvis all had chances in the second period which they should have done much better with, this was pretty much the story of the game, copious amounts of possession wasn’t backed up by clinical finishing.

Bilic talked sensibly about his assessment of the game, explaining how he predicted what the Maltese side were there to do, restrict West Ham from playing their game.

“We knew that it was going to be like this and we had to be on one hand quick, and on the other hand patient.” Bilic told the club’s official website. “They were going to be with the whole team behind the ball, they were going to waste time and they were going to keep the ball when we gave it to them.”

Bilic wasn’t wrong, Birkirkara enjoyed only 26% possession whilst not registering a single attempt on target.

Bilic went on to highlight how good West Ham’s defensive unit looked before admitting his side were pretty lightweight in attack.

“Of course we are going to improve, but we were compact at the back and the two centre-halves concentrated and passed the ball and were really good. I’m pleased with the way we played.

“I’m not happy with the final third of the pitch and the result. If it was 2-0 or 3-0 it would have been good. We deserved more goals, but I am happy with the way we played.”

After watching the game at Upton Park last night, I’m confident the Hammers will win comfortably in Malta, Tomkins goal will be crucial in creating a much more open game as Birkirkara have to score at least twice to give themselves a hope of qualifying. This will suit West Ham down to the ground.

Hammers fans will hope, as the season moves on, that more attacking quality will be introduced into the side via the likes of Payet, Obiang, Valencia and Sakho after suspension.

There were a lot of disgruntled supporters after last night’s result, but there is no cause for concern for me. Bilic has made use of his squad well thus far, and it’s unlikely (with the exception of Zarate and Sakho) that any of the attacking players that featured will be no way near the league side.

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