Astra Giurgiu 1-1 West Ham: Hammers draw Europa League qualifying play-off first-leg tie
By Charlotte Marsh
Last Updated: 18/08/16 11:43pm
A late equaliser from Denis Alibec saw West Ham held to a 1-1 draw by Astra Giurgiu in their Europa League qualifying play-off first-leg tie.
The striker hit home in the 83rd minute to cancel out Mark Noble's penalty on the stroke of half time after a handball from Cristian Sapunaru.
The Romanian side knocked the Hammers out in the third qualifying round of the competition last season, drawing 2-2 in the first leg in London before Astra won 2-1 at home a week later.
Slaven Bilic will now prepare his side for Premier League action against Bournemouth on Sunday live on Sky Sports before the second-leg against Astra Giurgiu at the London Stadium on August 25.
It was Filipe Teixeira who looked the most dangerous in the opening exchanges, but twice hit the side netting before West Ham started to test the home side.
The first chance came in the tenth minute as Noble lofted a lovely pass for Jonathan Calleri, but the debutant saw his flicked header saved at the near post before Michail Antonio had his bullet header cleared off the line by Teixeira.
The former West Brom man continued to be the best attacking threat for Astra although they offered very little to trouble the Hammers in the first half, with Takayuki Seto skewing a volley on the half an hour mark in the pick of the remaining chances for the hosts.
Antonio thrived in his more natural attacking position and nearly grabbed himself a first-half assist as he went on a mazy run through the park before playing a sumptuous chip for Enner Valencia - but the striker could only shoot wide - before Calleri was once again denied at point-blank range by Astra goalkeeper Silviu Lung.
In the 45th minute, West Ham managed to find the breakthrough as Sapunaru launched into a bizarre clearance with his hands leading the way to gift the east London outfit a penalty. It was captain Noble who stepped up and made no mistake in converting from the spot to score his 28th Hammers penalty.
It was Astra who started the better in the second half, as Reece Burke cleared a dangerous cross from Alexandru Ionita before Daniel Niculae headed back across goal from the back post but Sapunaru couldn't connect.
West Ham had their first opening ten minutes after the restart as Calleri chased down a long pass from Pedro Obiang and held off two defenders before squaring to Antonio - but his effort went wide after a nick off an Astra foot.
Home captain Sousa Junior Morais then tried to find a way to get his side level, firing a decent long range effort over the bar before whipping in a dangerous cross from the left flank that was cleared well by Burke.
Substitute Alibec got his first real chance of the half not long after as he raced onto a ball forward from Fabricio Silva Dornellas, taking aim from the left flank but Randolph read it well and made an easy collection.
The Hammers could have wrapped up the game in the 82nd minute as youngster Marcus Browne raced down the field and into the box before squaring for the incoming Antonio - but the winger smashed his effort into the side of the net despite a perfect opening.
The Premier League side were punished 98 seconds later when Alibec struck, collecting a corner at the near post and using his strength to turn away from Collins and fire the ball into the top of the net to take a draw into next week's second leg tie.