“Rusty” and “Sluggish” weren’t the two secret signings Slaven Bilic made over the summer but they were hugely influential in West Ham’s disappointing 2-1 defeat away to Slovenian minnows NK Domzale.
West Ham Utd have made their first competitive match at the Olympic Stadium next Thursday (August 4) a lot harder than it needed to be. Now they must go in focussed on a convincing win, rather use the experience to acclimatise themselves to their E20 surroundings and enjoy the sell-out celebration.
For the handful of travelling fans at the echoing Stadion Stozice, there was little to cheer in the third round Europa League match beyond captain Mark Noble’s 18th minute penalty that, at least, gave the Irons an away goal.
Slaven Bilic, banished to the stands after an infraction last time around, watched on as his team quickly revealed how much the summer had taken its toll. Chelsea, away, on August 15 appears a whole lot more daunting.
Passes were misplaced, opportunities missed and, physically, the team slumped quickly and never recovered. West Ham made the little-known Slovenian side appear like Barcelona such was their speed, efficiency and effectiveness against a clueless West Ham defence.
Only Sofiane Feghouli, with a couple of pin-sharp deadball strikes and some meaningful enterprise down the right, seemed to be up with the pace.
NK Domzale had played two rounds to reach this point – and it showed.
They will rue the many missed chances and Adrian, who appeared the sharpest of the bunch, helped salvage a scoreline which, in the context of the match, failed to reflect the appetites of the home side.
Matic Crnic, in particular, had new boy Havard Nordveit on a string and scored two goals to secure the first leg – an early penalty and a more impressive shot that swept across the West Ham box, evaded Adrian’s fingertips and ballooned the net.
The makeshift defence missed Aaron Cresswell and were all over the place. Michail Antonio grew frustrated that his body wasn’t doing what he wanted it to and he departed in favour of 16-year-old Domingos Quina who scampered eagerly but without much effect in the short time he had.
Noble said: “You’re going to miss a player like Dimitri Payet, of course, but that’s no excuse. We had a good enough team to come here and win but we didn’t do that. These games are tough but we didn’t play well. They played well and deserved it.
“Playing at the Olympic Stadium is something to look forward to but obviously this result isn’t ideal,” said the captain Noble. “It’s our first game there and we’ve got to be positive – I’m sure the fans will be behind us – and win the game.”
The first leg was played in front of 3,000. In contrast the second leg will be played in front of 50,000 looking to put their vocal imprint on the Olympic Stadium.
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