It would be uncontroversial to suggest that West Ham are having a tough time of it in the Europa League, scraping through to the third qualifying round by penalties in a hot and hot-tempered encounter.

West Ham now face Romanian side Astra, but not with confidence or momentum but with the knowledge that rustiness is making heavy weather of their challenge.

The Irons took a shaky 1-0 lead to Malta to face Birkirkara and were unable to make a mark against the minnows although James Tomkins was sent off for pushing Nikola Vukanac, an advantage the home side lost when the opposition's Mauricio Mazzetti received a red.

Aside from a goal disallowed for offside, only Matt Jarvis tested goalkeeper Justin Haber and it was the only strike on target until extra time when the Hammers scored all five-spot kicks, a 5-3 victory secured by Diego Poyet’s shot.

West Ham created nothing much against a tough tackling team ranked 360th in the Uefa rankings and Slaven Bilic’s thin comfort will be that none of the club’s seven signings were on show. With Diafro Sakho banned after a red card, Mauro Zarate was ineffective lone striker and the team toiled.

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Bilic, after his fourth game in charge, said: “These things happen in football and it would have been a major blow to be eliminated but we deserved to go through.

“It would have been embarrassing, no matter the heat or that we were without many players, but we overcame the circumstances. To play 120 minutes and be one man down in heat will be good for the boys’ confidence.”