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Poor defending and finishing cost Leeds at West Ham
Tuesday, 9th Mar 2021 23:05 by Tim Whelan

Once again Leeds went down to a defeat where the final scoreline wasn’t a true reflection of the balance of play. This time at the hands of West Ham United, as our London curse continued.

There were a couple of big names back in the squad for our first ever trip to the London stadium, with Kalvin Phillips restored to the defensive midfield role in place of Struijk, and Rodrigo getting as far as the bench on his own return from injury. But one notable absentee was Casilla, with Caprile taking his place among the subs even though the Spaniard is not injured.

Leeds made a great start to the game and had West Ham on the back for the first 15 minutes or so. We went close when Costa sent a left foot shot narrowly over the bar, and then twice had the ball in the net during the next few minutes. First when Roberts got to the ball ahead of a static defence to convert a cross from Costa, only to be denied by a linesman’s flag.

VAR ruled that Costa was offside by the narrowest of margins from Bamford’s flick, even though at first glance it looked like a defender’s leg was playing him on. And did Bamford actually touch the ball? If he hadn’t then Costa was well onside from the original cross, but it didn’t look like VAR actually checked that. How many marginal VAR decisions is that against us now?

Then Bamford had the ball in the net from a Raphinha cross, which would have been goal and assist for my fantasy team if the ball hadn’t gone beyond the goal-line before the Brazilian’s cross. Even though the TV replay got me excited by stopping the film in the wrong place, when the ball was just about on the line.

In a post-match interview Declan Rice admitted this was roughly the point when the West Ham players realised they needed to wake up a bit and start to get back into the game. And the home side were presented with the chance to take the lead when Lingard cut into the area and was tripped by Ayling’s clumsy challenge.

Lingard insisted on taking the penalty himself, and although Meslier saved the spot kick it fell nicely for Lingard to run in and guide the rebound into the net. He benefited from taking such a poor kick, hitting it so straight that Meslier almost dived past it, expecting it to go further into the corner, and as a result could only push it straight back out rather than pushing it away to the side. And yes, I had already noticed that before Rob Green said exactly the same thing at half time.

And it got worse in the 28th minute, after a free kick from Creswell was narrowly wide. At the resulting corner Antonio made sure he got in front of Meslier to block him off, while making no attempt to go for the ball himself. As a big lump, he’s ideally suited to that particular task. This left Dawson free to get to head home from close range, once he’d eluded Llorente’s attempt to track his run.

By now Leeds were looking rattled, with Benrahma and Lingard going close, before another shot from Benrahma was well saved by Meslier. Benrahma had been given a rare start for this game, so David Moyes must know he was a bit of a thorn in our side during his Brentford days. And just before the break our vulnerability from corners continued as Dawson saw another header coming back off the post.

So we could count ourselves lucky to be only two down at half time, and it was no surprise that Bielsa made a couple of changes to try and get us back into the game. Alioski and Harrison came on for Kilch and Costa, with Dallas moving from left back to midfield. Costa had made little contribution since the early stages, and Kilch has been struggling for fitness for a few weeks now and could do with a break.

The substitutions seemed to work as we began to enjoy far more possession, only to be let down by some poor finishing. Llorente put Bamford through on goal with an excellent through ball, and just as I was jumping off the sofa to celebrate, I realised that Bamford had curled his shot just wide of the far post.

Next Raphinha was unlucky with a spectacular overhead kick, with the ball looping up after a deflection to give Fabianski time to tip it over the bar. On the hour mark Bielsa made his final change, with Rodrigo coming on for Roberts. Roberts was another who had faded after a bright start to the game, though things might have been different if his early goal had been allowed to stand.

At the other end we were looking a bit more organised at corners, with Dallas doing his best to shepherd Antonio away from Meslier, while his colleagues moved to stop their big central defenders running in from the edge of the box. Even so, West Ham did go close when a corner was cleared out to Fornals, who hit the bar with a dipping volley after controlling it with his chest.

Benrahma sent another shot wide, but Leeds were producing more chances at the other end. Bamford sent a shot well wide, and we really should have equalised when a cross from Ayling found it’s way through to Rodrigo in the six yard box. But the Spaniard failed to get any power on his shot, giving Dawson time to get back and clear it off the line.

In truth Rodrigo looked at little rusty on his return to the side, but that is only to be expected after being out for a while, and I’m sure his sharpness will return after a few more games. He sent another shot over the bar, but the worst miss of the closing stages came from Bamford, who was leaning back as another cross came to him from close range and that also went well over the bar.

We also had a powerful shot from Raphinha that was straight at the keeper, but in the end we ran out of time and went down to another frustrating defeat. In many ways this was a good performance against a team pushing for Europe and we were the better side for much of the game, but in the end we were let down by our performance in both boxes at crucial moments.

And it means our poor run of results in the nation’s capital continues, but what did we expect at the venue called the London stadium? Our trip to Fulham in a couple of weeks is our final chance to put that right this season.

Some might think we still need a result in that game to make sure of our Premiership future, but surely we will be OK with a nine point gap over the Cottagers with only ten games to play and a number of poor sides between us in the table. Won’t we?

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