A year is an extremely long time in football, but West Ham fans will remember being knocked out of the Europa League by Romanian outfit Astra Giurgiu last season as if it was yesterday.
Looking back, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Hammers went on to enjoy a hugely successful Premier League campaign – coming so close to breaking in to the top four before eventually finishing seventh.
When you look at the way in which they treated the Europa League qualifying rounds last summer – playing youngsters and fringe players – it’s no surprise Slaven Bilic’s men ended up crashing out in the third qualifying round.
This summer they’ve gone one better after defeating Slovenian club NK Domzale 4-2 on aggregate. Now, in tonight’s playoff round, they face Astra Giurgiu again and will be looking for sweet revenge.
Injuries to key players aside, West Ham’s squad has come a long way since last August. The Hammers now boast a number of top quality players and have impressive strength in depth, which means it’ll be a tougher test to the one Astra faced last season.
But whatever happened to the starting XI who infamously lost to the Romanians in the second leg of their third qualifying round on August 6, 2015?
Let’s take a look at where they are now…
Darren Randolph became West Ham’s cup goalkeeper last season and impressed between the sticks whenever he was called upon – so much so that some fans were calling for him to replace Adrian as the club’s new first-choice keeper.
The Republic of Ireland goalkeeper signed a new four-year deal at the club just three weeks ago and is currently well rated by Slaven Bilic. He’ll no doubt be the ONLY surviving player from last years’s team in the Hammers’ starting XI tonight.
The 19-year-old right-back made his debut in this game last season and he didn’t have a bad game, though it was clear his inexperience counted against him through, as well nerves!
He hasn’t made a first team appearance since, and was recently sent out on loan to Championship side Wigan – where he broke he dislocated and broke his elbow during a pre-season training camp in Portugal, leaving him sidelined for a lengthy spell.
After an impressive season on loan under Sam Allardyce, Slaven Bilic moved quickly to bring him back for second successive loan spell from Arsenal.
However, a string of poor performances at the beginning of last season led to calls for him to be dropped. Then, in January 2016, Jenkinson suffered a season-ending injury while giving away a penalty against Manchester City.
The 24-year-old was promptly send back to Arsenal for treatment, and is believed to be inline for an Arsenal comeback later this year.
The Canada international made his debut in this fixture last season and hasn’t featured for the first team since.
The 23-year-old is still contracted to the club, and is currently enjoying a second successive loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.
The 20-year-old made three appearances during West Ham’s Europa League qualifying rounds last season, but is yet to make a first team appearance since.
The left-back was shipped out on loan to Cambridge United last season and, despite playing a role in West Ham’s pre-season this summer, as well as appearing on the bench for the club’s third qualifying round victory over NK Domzale, was recently sent out on loan to League One side Coventry City.
Poyet arrived at the club with a lot of promise but has struggled to cement his place in the Hammers first team.
Poyet was a prominent fixture on the club’s Europa League fixtures last summer, making five appearances of a possible six, but he hasn’t featured for the club since that defeat to Astra.
Last season the 21-year-old enjoyed loan spells at MK Dons and Charlton, and it’s expected he’ll be loaned out again before the end of the current transfer window.
This proved to be on Nolan’s last games in Claret and Blue after four and bit years of loyal service.
The Hammers skipper was told by Slaven Bilic that he wouldn’t be a first choice player under him and he chose to the leave the club by mutual consent as a result.
The 34-year-old then rocked up at Leyton Orient in January 2016 as a player manager, where he played 14 times before eventually resigning.
Currently a free agent.
Currently regarded as one of the most promising youngsters in the Hammers’ ranks, Cullen was given his first team chance against FC Lusitans in last season’s Europa League first qualifying round.
He made his Premier League debut in the Hammers’ 3-0 win at Anfield last season and was then sent out on loan to Bradford – where he impressed.
He most recently started West Ham’s 3-2 friendly defeat to Juventus and didn’t look out of place, but the next day he was sent back to Bradford on loan.
Certainly someone who has a bright future at West Ham
Arguably the most successful player from last season’s XI to face Astra. The Argentine scored in that 2-1 defeat and went on to become a key member of Slaven Bilic’s squad during a hugely successful season.
He’s currently sidelined through injury but is expected to return to action over the next couple of weeks – and will no doubt be as important for the Hammers as he was last term.
The striker failed to make a real impact during his two and a bit seasons at the club, and after netting just once in seven first team appearances following Bilic’s arrival he was sold to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr for an undisclosed fee last summer.
He hasn’t been that good over there either, scoring just twice in 12 league outings.
Despite showing so much promise for West Ham’s Development Squad for a number of seasons, Lee was rarely given a chance to show what he can do for the first team.
Having made his Premier League debut for the club as a substitute during Sam Allardyce’s last game in charge, Slaven Bilic used him in last summer’s Europa League qualifiers. However, after scoring just once it was clear he hadn’t done enough to convince the new boss he was capable of leading the line.
Following loan spells at Colchester, Southend, Luton Town and Blackpool – where he scored just six goals in a combined 34 league appearances across three seasons, Lee was eventually released by the club at the end of last season.
The striker signed for Championship side Barnsley on a free transfer back in June but is yet to make a league appearance.