Domzale vs West Ham match report: Sorry Hammers slip to defeat in first leg of Europa League qualifier in Slovenia
West Ham have work to do in their opening match at the Olympic Stadium next week after they were surprised 2-1 by Slovenian side Domzale.
The Hammers struggled throughout the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round match at the Stozice Stadium on Thursday night, losing to early goals in either half from Matic Crnic. Mark Noble’s first-half penalty gave the Hammers what could prove a vital away goal, but Slaven Bilic will be aware of the dangers of another early European exit.
The Premier League side were originally drawn to play the first leg at home but asked Uefa to switch the legs to help get their new ground ready on time following recent Athletics events at the venue – and they may now be regretting that request.
The Hammers named a strong starting line-up for their first competitive match of the season, Andy Carroll starting up front while there were debuts for Sofiane Feghouli on the right-wing and fellow free transfer Havard Nordtveit, at centre-back. Gokhan Tore missed out through injury, along with Aaron Cresswell, ruled out for over three months with a knee problem, Diafra Sakho, Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet.
Bilic was absent from the Hammers dug-out, completing a two-match touchline ban from last year’s travails in the competition.The Hammers went out of the competition at the same third qualifying round stage last season, losing to Astra Giurgiu after beating Lusitanos and Birkirkara in previous rounds.
With the play-off round still to follow next month, West Ham hope to join Manchester United and Southampton in the group stages, which get under way in September.
Carroll was heavily involved in the opening minutes, going close with a back header before being subjected to some robust challenges in and around the Domzale box. The hosts were quick to recover and went ahead from the penalty spot after Nordtveit was harshly judged by Turkish referee Mete Kalkavan to have handled a shot just 10 minutes into his debut. Crnic scored the resultant spot-kick amid disgruntled Hammers faces, on the pitch, in the dug-out and in the stands.
The visitors were not miserable for long, however, West Ham awarded a spot-kick of their own just six minutes later, keeper Alex Maraval charging into the back of Winston Reid and catching him around the head. Noble easily netted from the spot to give the Hammers parity on the night and a crucial away goal. Feghouli began brightly and posed a danger with his crossing, while at the other end scorer Crnic tested Adrian with a shot from the angle after cutting in from the left wing. Obiang went close from the edge of the box following a half-cleared corner after half an hour but Marko Alvir also threatened with a header and Benjamin Morel a free-kick from distance as the hosts took control.
Crnic started the second half just as he had the first – finding the net for a second time with yet another run down the left wing. The 24-year-old Slovenian international made light of the free space afforded him by an upfield Mikhail Antonio and cut inside to send a low shot around Adrian to put his side ahead again.
Jure Balkovec forced Adrian to push round the post as Domzale enjoyed more joy down the left , before Majer made the keeper work from distance. Adrian was again West Ham’s saviour in the final minutes, keeping out Crnic for a hat-trick from outside the area before getting up to superbly deny Amedej Vetrih from close range.
The second leg takes place next Thursday at the Olympic Stadium, and captain and scorer Noble remained positive.
“We lost [but I] don’t think it was a penalty for them,” he said. “We have to get on with it. The second leg is something to look forward to but we have to go there positively. It will be our first game at the Olympic Stadium and the fans will be behind us. You are going to miss a player like Dimitri but that is no excuse. We had a good enough team to win here but we did not do that. We better play well next Thursday,”
Elsewhere there was little success for the other two British sides in action on Thursday night. Aberdeen required a late equaliser against another Slovenian side, Maribor, to draw 1-1 at Pittodrie. Milivoje Novakovič put the visitors in front with seven minutes remaining only for Jonathan Hayes to level on 88 minutes. In Belgium, a spirited Cork City went down 1-0 at Genk, Leon Bailey’s first-half goal the difference.