West Ham travel to Romania to face Astra with their UEFA Europa League hopes hanging in the balance, but young defender Lewis Page is confident the Premier League side can prevail.
Page started both legs of West Ham’s last qualifier against Lusitanos and his performances have given manager Slaven Bilic an option at left-back, with the 19-year-old now breathing down the neck of first-team regular Aaron Cresswell.
Cresswell was reinstated for the first leg against Astra but missed the subsequent friendly against Werder Bremen with an injury, and Bilic may give Page another chance at the Stadionul Marin Anastasovici.
Page has issued a statement of intent ahead of the trip to Romania, telling the club’s official website: “I want to push on and become a first-team player and that has to be my aim.
“There are players like Mark Noble and James Tomkins who are always there to help me through it and I cannot ask for much more. The manager has shown trust in me to play in the Europa League and I hope there is more to come.”
He added: “Every time I step out onto the pitch it feels like a dream and hearing the crowd. It is something I am not used to.”
Bilic will be forced to make changes to his defence at Astra, with James Collins suspended after his first-leg sending off, and there will be late fitness tests for Cresswell, Winston Reid, Matt Jarvis and Kevin Nolan.
Enner Valencia, meanwhile, has been sidelined for three months with a leg injury sustained in the first leg.
Mark Noble, who captained West Ham in their last two outings, lamented the long journey his team-mates face with a Premier League visit to Arsenal on the horizon three days later, but insisted they had the strength to overcome Astra.
He said: “We’re pretty fit and strong and we’re ready to get going. We’ve picked up a few injuries along the way but we’ve got the squad to cope with it.
“It’s not ideal travelling to Romania three days before the season starts but we’ve got to deal with it.
“We’ve got good enough players to go to Romania and win the game comfortably.”
He added: “What the manager does about the team I don’t know as we’ve got Arsenal on Sunday, so what team he picks is down to him.”
Astra have started their domestic league season with a defeat, two draws and a win, and they put paid to Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Europa League hopes with a 1-0 aggregate win in the last round.
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