Slaven Bilic’s Hammers were held by a strongly defensive Sturm Graz B side to a 0-0 draw in our first game of pre-season in Austria yesterday.
Bilic named a totally different starting XI to the side that beat Burnley on the final day of the 2016/2017 Premier League season, with Adrian, debutant Pablo Zabaleta, Reece Burke, James Collins, Arthur Masuaku, Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang, Nathan Holland, Andre Ayew, Robert Snodgrass and Ashley Fletcher all starting the tie. The academy star Nathan Holland was also making his first-team debut along with Zabaleta and was a bright spark early on when he burst through on goal, only for Graz keeper Tobias Schutzenhaur to save well. The shot-stopper was at it again shortly after when Holland’s shot was parried away and Andre Ayew forced a good save out of him from the rebound.
The former Toffees man was soon running the show and created arguably the chance of the match on the 30-minute mark, but he could only win a corner from a very promising position down the right after bursting through. However, the best chance of the match would fall to the hosts when Romano Schmid found himself clean through on goal, but Adrian did exceptionally well to save. Chances were soon being wasted at both ends but by far the best were from us and shortly after Adrian’s heroics, Ayew has a powerful shot saved from a fantastic position inside the box. As the first-half drew to a close, it would be us who were most frustrated with a half of missed chances gone begging, but more was to follow in the second period.
During the break, a whole 11 changes were made by Slaven Bilic and his coaching staff, and a whole new line-up was presented in the second-half. Darren Randolph started in goal and in front of him was Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Angelo Ogbonna, Sam Byram, Josh Cullen, Edimilson Fernandes, Sofiane Feghouli, Manuel Lanzini, Moses Masaki and Antonio Martinez. It was to be debuts for Martinez and Masaki, but the second period was to be a dire one. The Austrian Third Division side would pose virtually no threat for the rest of the game and frustratingly for Hammers fans, a lot of pressure would amount to no real clear-cut chances.
Lanzini and Fernandes linked up well at times, but the Argentine had to settle for blasting a free-kick well over the bar as his only real chance. The former Valencia man Martinez, who scored 13 times for the U23’s last season, threatened with a near-post flick that was kept out by Schutzenhaur. However, the game would fizzle out to a 0-0 draw in sizzling conditions at The Thermenstadion Bad Waltersdorf.
Hammers fans up and down the land will be hoping that the frustration of the draw will not carry over into Thursday’s friendly with Fulham and the rest of our 2017/2018 season preparations. After the tour of Austria has ended, we will travel to Germany to face Altona 93 and Werder Bremen, before a trip to Iceland where Manchester City will be the opponents. The first tie in our Germany Tour may prove to be the Claret and Blue debut for a certain former Manchester City star.