West Ham United vs Astra Giurgiu match report: Hammers crash out of Europa League after shock defeat
The Olympic Stadium was built for the biggest occasions, but there will be no more European football there this season. West Ham United were knocked out of the Europa League, losing 1-0 to Astra Giurgiu following a disjointed performance on and a hot Thursday night.
Coming up against a Romanian side that worked hard and stuck to a plan, West Ham were far from the side that overwhelmed superior opposition at home and away last year. Shorn of their best players, West Ham looked shorn of any intelligence or imagination either. They put on enough second half pressure to create chances but could never claim that they deserved to win this match.
It leaves West Ham with a sharp sense of a missed opportunity, to open their new home with regular European football and to develop the reputation of the club abroad, which of course is part of the plan.
West Ham United are still in the long slow process of finding their voice in the new stadium, as players and as a crowd. It took Manchester City and Arsenal years to do the same, and even then the atmosphere has never quite been like it was before for both sides.
This is why every opportunity to play and win in Stratford mattered. This is why West Ham were so desperate to fight their way through to the group stage of the Europa League, to give themselves the chance of a season of what could be special nights under lights in their new unfamiliar home. Now they will miss those opportunities, spending Thursday nights at home instead.
The problem is that the West Ham players looked as new to each other as they did to the new ground. With no Dimitri Payet and no Manuel Lanzini on the pitch they could string very little together, and new signings Jonathan Calleri and Gokhan Tore did not look settled in the team. Their only first-half chance came when a goal-kick fortunately fell to Calleri, but he did not have the touch to control the ball and get a good shot away.
There was never any fluency, and West Ham too often looked like strangers in matching shirts. So it was that in the last minute of the first half West Ham tried an expansive attack, opened themselves up and were ripped open on the break. Reece Burke miscontrolled the ball and had it stolen from his toes by Cristian Sapunaru. Astra broke down the right through Daniel Niculae, and he saw that the West Ham back-line was dragged out of place. So he slid the ball to the left towards Felipe Teixeira, who slotted the ball past Darren Randolph and into the bottom corner. West Ham were booed off, although not as badly as they were at full-time.
Slaven Bilic knew he needed to make a change so Enner Valencia came on at the break. That did not spark up West Ham enough, and after Calleri missed an easy header from a Tore cross, he was withdrawn for Ashley Fletcher. The 20-year-old signed from Manchester United should have equalised soon after coming on, when the ball fell to him in the box, but he did not realise he had time, and snatched a shot straight at Silviu Lung.
Fletcher was more dangerous than Calleri, though, and when he won a free-kick on the edge of the box Valencia forced another good Lung save. James Collins was introduced as a makeshift centre-forward for the last few minutes, which shows just how short on quality and ideas West Ham were as they tried to chase the game. With no Payet, no Lanzini and no real plan, West Ham could not do enough to break through.