West Ham boss Slaven Bilic was pleased with the team’s performance in the early stages of the pre-season after a 1-0 first leg Europa League second qualifying round win over Malta’s FC Birkirkara.
James Tomkins' late goal earned the Hammers victory and the advantage going into the second leg, but it was a frustrating night for the Irons.
Former Croatia manager Bilic insisted he expects more of the same from Birkirkara in the return fixture and, although he is quietly confident, has warned the tie is not done yet.
Bilic said: “They are probably going to play the same way. As long as it’s 0-0 in Malta then we will be the ones who will be more nervous.
"They will wait for long balls, counter attacks or mistakes. We are quite confident at 1-0 but the job isn’t done, but it wouldn’t be if it was 2-0 or 3-1. We need to respect the stage we are playing on.”
“We have a busy schedule because we didn’t know we were going to play in Europe so we arranged a lot of friendly games, but the game in Malta is the main one. Our squad for the return match will be as strong as it can be.”
In a game were the East Londoners dominated proceedings, the lack of quality of finishing was something that ruffled Bilic’s feathers, with the likes of Modibo Maiga, Mauro Zarate and Matt Jarvis squandering good chances.
Former Besiktas chief Bilic said strengthening his side's attack was something he would be working on with the players, but also found some positives with the late goal from the former England U-21 international.
“We were very well organised, but in the last third of the pitch we needed some extra quality,” said Bilic.
“We scored with two minutes to go and then we lost a bit of shape and the energy. If we had scored before it then we would probably have been more open.”
“I’m really happy that I have a good group of players I can work with that are ready to improve, work hard and listen. That’s what makes me optimistic and happy.”
Shortly after the win, West Ham announced the departure of midfielder Stewart Downing to Championship side Middlesbrough for an undisclosed fee.
The former Aston Villa and Liverpool winger made 74 appearances in the Claret and Blue shirt, scoring seven goals. Downing arguably was one of West Ham’s star performers last season under Sam Allardyce, creating 85 chances, more than any other Englishman in the Premier League.
Bilic insisted that he did not want the England international to leave the club, but Downing wanted to return home.
Bilic said: “He’s a quality player and I said I would like to keep as many quality players as possible because it’s hard.
"I rate Downing highly and he was brilliant in the first half of last season. I was counting on him big time.
“Downing came over to Cork for pre-season training and said he’d like to go home. I tried to persuade him to stay with us but he said he wanted to go and, if it was any other club that was interested, then he would have stayed.
"It’s a great deal for him but I wasn’t happy that he left."