West Ham let us down badly in last week’s Europa League qualifiers as they went down 2-1 in Slovenia to Domzale, but they are given the chance to earn a reprieve on Thursday night in the second leg.
The Hammers opened their European account in terrible fashion, conceding a penalty after just 11 minutes which man of the match Crnic converted with aplomb. It may have been harshly awarded for a handball by Havard Nordtveit, but it was no more than the home side deserved after an enterprising start. Mark Noble equalised from the spot just seven minutes later, but the Hammers were second best for long periods and had goalkeeper Adrian to thank for keeping the score down.
The result was exactly what Slaven Bilic didn’t want, and now his side will play their first ever competitive game at the Olympic stadium under huge amounts of pressure on Thursday evening.
We also backed another Slovenian side, Maribor, to snatch at least a draw from their visit to Aberdeen. That bet never looked in doubt when the visitors took the lead after 83 minutes, and so it proved despite Jonny Hayes crucial equaliser two minutes from time. The tie has been left wide open, but it’s a tough challenge for Aberdeen to make the trip to Slovenia and come away with anything.
It’s a huge night for both clubs, but we think it’s the Hammers who will be through to the next round come the end of play on Thursday.
West Ham v Domzale
Coral are offering -143 about West Ham winning at half time and full time and that looks a fair bet considering the circumstances.
Aaron Cresswell’s absence from the West Ham defence was pivotal last week, but of equal importance was the lack of animation from Slaven Bilic on the sidelines. The Irons’ manager served a ban and was forced to watch from the stands as his team showed a distinct lack of organisation. His return to the dug out could prove to be vital, and after last week’s performance there’s little doubt that he will have given his players a ‘rocket’.
European football wasn’t necessarily on West Ham’s agenda last season as they exited the qualifying rounds with a whimper, but it is well and truly expected this season by fans, players and chairmen alike. Indeed, the chances of holding onto Dimitri Payet and persuading other top players to sign, could well depend upon whether European football is on the table, and it would be little short of disaster if they came up short again.
The other circumstantial aspect to this game is that it is the first competitive fixture at the Hammer’s new home, the Olympic stadium. Some 52,000 season tickets have been sold for the inaugural season at the Stratford ground, and despite a prestigious friendly against Juventus the following Sunday, the record books will show this game as the first result on the new pitch. That should be enough to breathe fire into West Ham’s performance and they are expected to come out all guns blazing from the first whistle.
Goalkeeper Adrian kept the Irons in it with a fine double save late on last week, and the tie is evenly balance with a 1-0 win enough to take the claret and blues through on away goals. However, a canny manager like Bilic will know the frailty of a one-goal lead in those circumstances, and will ask his team to put the tie to bed with a commanding performance. Talisman Payet returned to training on Monday of this week, and it’s even possible that he may get a run out at some stage of proceedings. The half-time/full-time result offers a more presentable way to back the Hammers, who are rightly skinny odds to win over 90 minutes.
Maribor v Aberdeen
Aberdeen, on the other hand, are up against it in Slovenia and Maribor are good value at +115 with William Hill
The Slovenian side have a good pedigree in Europe, having qualified for the group stages of the Champions League just two seasons ago. Finishing third in their group, they dropped into the Europa League where they were knocked out by eventual winners Sevilla.
Aberdeen fell at the qualifying stage last year, and it’s a tough ask to go to Slovenia and get a result. Maribor have won three and drawn three of their last six home fixtures, but worryingly, Aberdeen have lost five of the last six competitive fixtures on the road. Dons manager Derek McInnes believes his team has what it takes to go through, but with the away goal rule in effect, a 0-0 draw would see Maribor qualify. That means Aberdeen will have to come out in search of a goal at some stage during the game, and the Slovenian side are an excellent counter-attacking outfit who could well take advantage.
West Ham HT/FT double result
Thursday 4th August, 19:45 GMT
Maribor to beat Aberdeen
Thursday 4th August, 19:15 GMT