Thr first game provided the chance for a host of youngsters to get their first starts and also for some senior players who were injured towards the end of last season to make an early start to their preseason. The game was euro-niggley and the kids quickly discovered the need to move the ball quickly in order to get purchase against a heavily manned defence.
The second leg was also a learning curve as star striker Diafra Sakho discovered with his dismissal in the fourteenth minute for contributing to an off the ball tussle after, as the dislikeable Lusitanian manager described it, being 'provoked' by one of his players. The incident turned the game and provided our kids with a chance to play off the back foot and get some under-the-kosh game time.
For manager Slaven Bilic the incident will provide a chance to address disciplinary issues with his squad. Undoubtedly, the failure of his previous club Besiktas to seize the Turkish Premier League title last season was related to their incredible tally of ten red cards during the campaign! Clearly this is an area that will need to be policed carefully during the coming season during which the Hammers will need their squad to be fully available as much as possible.
A two match ban is likely to apply such that Diafra won't travel to Malta (and wont therefore get the chance to visit the island's premier tourist attraction at the Popeye Village!). Interestingly, the Hammers opponents during the next round Birkirkara also had a man sent off during their first round tie.
The Maltese will undoubtedly contribute more than Lusitans in terms of actual football. Ultimately, for all the managerial hot air the Andorrans managed their first shot on goal in the tie late into the second half of the second leg! With the skillful Fabrizio Miccoli as offensive playmaker the Maltese outfit will provide a much sterner test.
Either way, job done and a few lessons learned. Perhaps most importantly, Sakho's absence highlights the need to bring another striker into the ranks.