The unthinkable almost came to pass this evening as an out of sorts West Ham were forced to go to penalties after losing 1-0 on the night to Maltese side Birkirkara! Luckily, one of Slaven Bilic's Summer recruits made all the difference as the Hammers were forced to look deep into their soul for a result.
As extra time progressed, the Maltese side (who are sponsored by McDonalds) looked happy to let it go to penalties but obviously hadn't done their homework properly. With West Ham's (and probably the Premiership's) greatest ever penalty taker as first team coach, the Hammers calmly slotted all five of their penalties whilst the Maltese skyed their third penalty over the bar.
All's well that ends well? No - Slaven Bilic will have much to ponder ahead of the third round where West Ham will meet Romanian side Astra who saw off Inverness Caley Thistle earlier today. Few of the starting eleven did themselves any favours, with the early substitution of Kevin Nolan especially telling in terms of where Sam's captain sits in Bilic's plans. Poor Modi Maiga had another dreadful outing, and even when he appeared to finally do something right by slotting home an apparent winner just before the end, it was ruled offside in what looked like a very tight decision. Mauro Zarate again looked like he was trying too hard and persistently held on to the ball for too long. Amalfitano was equally ineffective before being withdrawn early.
It has been noted that Besiktas' title challenge under Bilic last year was derailed by their poor disciplinary record - they picked up TEN red cards during the campaign!!! Bizarrely, the Hammers have picked up two already this season. That's one thing that has definitely changed since the Allardyce regime where, for all the tough physical football, the Hammers qualified for the Europa league via the fair play system.
In truth, tonight's side consisted mostly of Sam's troops who looked unsure of how to impose a non-Allardycian style on the game. We can thank our lucky stars that we crept through tonight as there will be opportunities to improve upon this side with the likes of Payet, Ogbonna, Obiang and Lanzini. We clearly still lack firepower up front and need to capture a striker or even two if we can offload the likes of Maiga and Nolan. Charlie Austin remains an ideal candidate to fill that void.
Early days. Early days...another night of European excitement beckons next week. thank God we have time to get our house in order before we face the Gooners and some heavyweight Premiership opposition.