A spirited Hammers side fought-back from losing positions three-times yesterday evening to earn a hard-fought draw in the penultimate friendly of pre-season against Altona 93.
The game was classed as a friendly, but the fiery encounter far from lived up to it’s name. The hosts, who play their Football in The German Fourth Division, put out a good fight against our Premier League talent, but clearly also had help from the German referee. However, it was nothing put pure skill that gave the minnows a shock lead inside five-minutes, when Nick Brisevak caught out Adrian with a low free-kick.
The lead was made even more of a surprise by the strong Hammers line-up that started the fixture, with Adrian between the sticks and a back-four of Pablo Zabaleta, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell. Slaven Bilic was still without the likes of Manuel Lanzini and Mark Noble who are out wither minor injuries, so was forced to settle with the midfield-five of Pedro Obiang, Edimilson Fernandes, Robert Snodgrass, Andre Ayew and Marko Arnautovic. Young Spanish forward Antonio Martinez was seeking his second goal in as many appearances starting up-front and that would come just seconds after the opener. A fantastic long-ball forward from the stand-in skipper Reid found the former Oxford United loanee, who swivelled and unleashed a fantastic effort into the far-corner from range. With two goals in the first five minutes, the game was poised to be a cracker.
It wouldn’t be long before the game truly fitted it’s early billing, as chances would fall to both sides before the break. However, it would be the hosts who took the lead for the second time, with another moment of magic this time from Dennis Thiessen who curled in from range. To add insult to injury for Bilic, Winston Reid, who had been booked by the easily-provoked referee for an altercation just moments earlier, was given his marching orders for sarcastically clapping the Official after he penalised him for a foul in the Altona box. The decision came under fire from fans and pundits alike who believed that the referee singled out The Kiwi for the earlier exchange, nevertheless we were now bizarrely down to ten-men. As a gesture of good will, the hosts offered to play the second period with ten-men themselves, but the bitter ref refused and the game went on as it was.
Former club-record signing Andre Ayew will be looking for a better second season as a Hammers and he got his pre-season account up and running with a fantastic volley to finish an Obiang long-ball and bring us level on 53 minutes. However, the home side would lead yet again just four minutes later, as Darius Stodd converted Serhat Cayir’s free-kick. Two goals in ten minutes could have easily been three when Marko Arnautovic smashed a low free-kick against Tobius Grubba’s right-hand post. However, we were soon level for the third time in comical circumstances.
The goal came just after the introduction of new-signing Javier Hernandez, and could have easily been his first Hammers notch. Substitute Sam Byram burst down the right and fired a delicious low cross across the face of goal that just avoided the right boot of Chicharito, but fell to Nathan Holland at the far-post. The youngster could only fashion a tame shot goalward, which rebounded off Altona’s third keeper of the game Joshua Du Preez and into the net. Despite the fact that the own goal was the sixth goal of the match, it wasn’t the end of the action and it set up a frantic final ten-minutes.
The home side went close to finding a winner against our ten-men through Tobias Lechler, when Adrian saved well to deny him and sub Declan Rice made a fantastic goal-line clearance. However, the best late chances would fall to us and more specifically Javier Hernandez. The Mexican all-time leading goal-scorer raced through to round the keeper and could not finish on two occasions. The score would remain locked at 3-3, despite Chicharito’s late penalty appeal and Bilic’s furious rant at the referee after the full-time whistle.
The draw at The Adolf-Jager-Kampfbahn Stadium means that we are likely to finish pre-season with only one victory to our name for the second year running. The encounter was also our penultimate fixture of pre-season, with only the glamorous friendly against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in Reykjavik left before our opening Premier League game at Old Trafford on August 13th. So, with our tour of Germany complete, how will we fare against the strong Citizens on Friday in Iceland?