I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.
West Ham United were beaten 3-1 by Fußballklub Austria Wien in their opening pre-season friendly fixture. An experimental side featuring new signings Mohamed Diame and Stephen Henderson plus youngsters Seb Lletget and Ravel Morrison deployed in a conventional 4-4-2, was comfortably beaten in the Austrian capital by a team three weeks ahead of the Hammers in their pre season preparations. Sam Baldock gave the Premier League newcomers a fourth minute lead at the 10,850-capacity Franz Horr Stadium, getting his head to a hanging Carlton Cole cross to force the ball past Lindner in the Wien goal. Cole then looked poised to record the Hammers' second of the match just before the 15-minute mark, the former Chelsea striker leaping for a cross in the box but taking a defender down in the process, resulting in a free-kick to the home side.
Yet that would prove to be as good as it got for the visitors, managed for this game and the entirety of the five day training camp in Bad Waltersdorf by assistant Neil McDonald. Blistering sunshine and temperatures in excess of 80 degrees forced a short break in play 20 minutes in, and then with Cole off the field receiving treatment, the revitalised 23-time Austrian Bundesliga champions levelled midway through the first half, Roland Linz evading a challenge on the edge of the box and beating Henderson. Three minutes later Tomas Simkovic burst down the left and picked out Dare Vrsic, who finished well to give Die Vielchen the lead. Cole was subsequently replaced with just 26 minutes on the clock by Nicky Maynard - however the damage is not thought to be serious. Cole tweeted after the game: "I had slight calf injury but came off for precautionary reasons! We got about 10 games this preseason so plenty of games to get match fit."
Shortly after the restart West Ham thought they had equalised when Ricardo Vaz Te nodded down Gary O'Neill's cross for Maynard to finish, but Kevin Nolan had already been penalised for a foul in the build-up. The Hammers had introduced several new faces, including recently re-signed George McCartney and new boy Jussi Jaaskelainen and the Londoners did start to enjoy a stronger spell of possession midway through the second half. Luck was not on their side, however, as Wien added another onto the scoresheet against the run of play 15 minutes from time. A strong push upfield saw Tomas Jun wriggle free from the Hammers defence before firing home a cracking effort from outside the box. The strike left Jaaskelainen- who had earlier made a flying save to deny the Czech Republic international from no more than ten yards- with little chance. The third goal gave the home side a new lease of life, cancelling out West Ham's period of domination and allowing them to kill the game off.
While the jubilent Wien Fanatics were in good voice at the final whistle, the general consensus was it had been a good workout for both teams. Playing against a near full strength team that begin their Bundesliga campaign in less than two weeks, the Hammers started brightly before their opponents' greater fitness levels saw them come back to claim victory. "The game went very much the way I thought it would go," McDonald confirmed to West Ham TV. "We started off well and scored a really good goal through Sam and then their passing and moving took over. We conceded two poor goals in the first half. The goal they scored in the second half was a really good strike so probably, all in all, we're pleased. We said before the game that it was all about improving our fitness and getting our endurance up and a lot of them played 45 minutes-plus so it finished off a good week, even though we got beaten 3-1."
Among those to give their all for the cause after just six days on the training pitch were teenagers Lletget, who played at right-back in the second half, Morrison and Dan Potts, who featured at centre-back during the closing 45 minutes. "They did very well," thought McDonald. "We asked them to play in different positions as well because of the lack of numbers and they've done OK. We're happy with their performances and it was a great experience for them coming away with the first team on pre-season, some of them for the first time, and to play against a very strong and sharp team. There are plenty of positives."
Not least in the way Baldock took his goal. "I think the goal was fantastic," stated McDonald. "Carlton Cole has run down the line and put in a good cross to the back post and Sam was in the right place at the right time." The diminutive striker had been left out of the starting lineup for much of the second half of last season, but insists he is itching to force his way back into manager Sam Allardyce's thoughts and make an impact in the Barclays Premier League. "I don't see why I can't take this opportunity to stake my claim," said Baldock. "Everyone knows that during the second half of last year I was very frustrated. I'm a footballer who wants to play football at the end of the day. I've been working hard and hopefully I'll be given a chance to show what I can do."
Focusing on his goal, Baldock revealed that he had been slightly fortunate to score, but that there was no luck involved in him being in the right place at the right time to meet Carlton Cole's far-post cross. Having worked on movement in the opposition penalty area on the training pitch the previous day, it was pleasing for the forward to see his hard work pay off. "I wasn't particularly pleased with my performance but I don't think anyone can say they played particularly well - it was more about getting a run out and seeing if you can get that match-sharpness after six days of training. It was a good end to the trip in a nice stadium with a good atmosphere and quite a few travelling fans, which was nice to see. I saw Coley made a great run and he got pretty much to the byline. I thought I'd lose my marker by making a run to the back stick where he hung it up and to be honest it just hit me! It hit the defender and came off my shoulder but it's a goal and strikers love goals, don't they."
For McDonald the positives included a good week's training as well as the climate. "They are three weeks ahead of us - they start in two weeks' time so they were always going to be a lot brighter and a lot fitter and fresher," he admitted. "The lads have done what they were asked to do, considering that was their first week. It's been lovely in Austria - the weather has been perfect from when we arrived to when we flew back home and that's the weather you want for pre-season. It's hot to run about in, of course, but I think the lads have acquitted themselves really well considering we have only had one week of training."
Two players to miss the game were Jack Collison and Joey O'Brien, who have been on special individual training programmes due to the long-term knee injuries they suffered earlier in their careers. McDonald also suggested Cole's premature departure had been pre-planned as the medical staff continue to manage his own well-documented knee issue. While all three could not play their full part in the game, there was great value in them being present for the whole week in Austria. "The majority of the senior staff are here so, even though they were never going to play or be involved in the first game, it was important for them to come with the lads and do all the training sessions. They've got through all that so they'll be ready to move on to the next stage when we go back home."
That next stage is a return to the UK for Tuesday’s friendly clash at Boreham Wood of the Conference South. The midweek fixture will see the return of Sam Allardyce to the dugout after the manager missed the Austrian training camp to work on bringing in new recruits back in London. McDonald confirmed that the Club would be working hard to strengthen the squad ahead of the opening Barclays Premier League fixture at home to Aston Villa on 18 August. "That was the reason Sam didn't come. He's been very busy over the summer. He's been on the phone trying to get deals done and I'm sure he'll be trying even harder in the next few weeks to try and freshen the squad up because we need competition for every place in the lineup."
West Ham Utd: Henderson (Jaaskelainen 46), Spence, Tomkins (McCartney 46), Reid (Noble 46), Potts, Taylor (O'Neil 46), Diame (Nolan 46), Morrison, Lletget, Cole (Maynard 26), Baldock (Vaz Te 46).
Subs not used: None.
FK Austria Wien: Lindner; Dilaver, Margreitter (Rogulj 83), Ortlechner (Rotpuller 76), Suttner (Wimmer 83); Gorgon (Murg 68), Vrsic (Mader 59), Holland (Spiridonovic 76), Simkovic; Linz (Kienast 76), Stankovic.
Subs not used: None.
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