A slick West Ham side registered the first win of pre-season in the second friendly of the tour of Austria against EFL Championship side Fulham in Graz yesterday.
Temperatures had soared throughout the day in the mountains, as a blend of youth and experience was picked to start the game by Slaven Bilic. There had been much anticipation at the potential Claret and Blue debut of England No1 Joe Hart, but the former Manchester City man was not included in the Match-Day squad just a day after flying out to Austria. During the lacklustre 0-0 draw with Sturm Graz ll on Monday, the whole team was rotated and the same occurred yesterday with the one exception of Josh Cullen who kept his place at half-time. However, the starting 11 was much changed and read as follows: Randolph, Byram, Rice, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masaki, Holland, Lanzini, Feghouli, Cullen and Fletcher.
Just like Monday’s bore draw, we would start the game as the better side, but with one difference-finding the breakthrough. A fantastic team move had seen the ball break to Ashley Fletcher on the edge of the area, with the former Red Devil unselfishly squaring the ball to Manuel Lanzini in a superb position. The 2016/2017 Player’s Player of the Season made no mistake in firing a powerful low effort past David Button in The Cottagers’ net. However, it would be long before the West-London club fought back.
Darren Randolph was soon called in to make the save of the match to deny pacey striker Sone Aluko, but it would be the keeper at the other end who stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The former Brentford man ambitiously took the ball for a wander inside his own box, in a bizarre moment. Ashley Fletcher soon cited the keeper’s vulnerability and tackled the ball off him, Button himself was too busy appealing for a free-kick to deny the 21-year-old from rolling the ball into an empty Fulham net. Nevertheless, the goal stood and we had raced to an impressive two-goal advantage as the break fast approached.
Oddly, only ten changes were made by Bilic at half-time as appose to the customary 11 in these experimental pre-season friendlies. We would start the second period with Adrian in goal followed by a back four of Zabaleta, Collins, Burke and Masuaku, in front of them was a midfielder quartet consisting of Cullen, Obiang, Noble and Snodgrass with Ayew and Martinez leading the line. After similar changes to the team at half-time against Sturm, a drab second was to follow in that game and ironically, lightening would strike twice in continental Europe.
The only real notable occurrence in the dull second period was a moment of magic from England U19 star Ryan Sessegnon. The Euro U19 winner made the most of some shoddy defending and danced his way into the box, this was where the 17-year-old fired a low deflected shot past Adrian and into the far corner. However, the expected grand-stand finish from Slavisa Jokanovic’s men never came and we ended the tie confidently in victory.
The win should hold the squad in good stead as we embark on an eight-day break from matches to travel to Germany. Once in Deutschland, the boys will face the two-legged Betway Cup against Werder Bremen and a friendly against Altona 93, which all begins in exactly a week’s time. So, could the likes of Marco Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez have passed their medicals and joined up with the squad by then?