|Leeds United 1 v 2 West Ham United|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 25th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds in bit of difficulty after West Ham defeat
Sunday, 26th Sep 2021 22:00 by Tim Whelan
This was a greatly improved Leeds performance for much of and entertaining first half, but we lost our way after the break, and West Ham United were able to snatch all three points through a late winner from Antonio.
Much of the pre-match talk centrered around which of our injured players would have recovered in time for this game, and which of our youngsters would get a game if they didn’t. Of the latest set of casualties Bamford and Ayling were missing, but Raphinha had managed to overcome his thigh problem sufficiently to make a start.
Which meant that Charlie Cresswell would make his Premier League debut after his hugely impressive cup appearance at Fulham, and he was excellent once again, despite being up against the very physical presence of Antonio throughout the game. Shackleton continued at right back and up front Rodrigo was left to play the lone striker role, with Klich and Dallas just behind him in midfield.
Leeds made a lively start, but it was the Hammers who created the first decent chances of the game. The first began with a neat exchange of passes on the edge of our box, but they got a lucky break of the ball before it came through to Antonio, who shot from a narrow angle but Meslier kept it out with his legs.
Next Antonio cut inside and fed Benrahma, whose curling shot was heading for the far cormer before Meslier pushed it round the post. But after this couple of scares, Leeds began to take a grip on the game and put the visitors’ defence under some sustained pressure. First Firpo played a ball inside to Dallas, whose shot was just tipped over the bar by Fabianski.
Then Raphinha raced down the right and cut inside to hit a powerful left foot shot from distance, only to send the ball straight at Fabianski. But the opening goal arrived in the 19th minute, from a move started by a great run down the left from Rodrigo. He played it inside to Kilch, who turned and spotted Raphinha racing through unchallenged.
This time Raphinha had adjusted his sights and instead of shooting straight at the keeper he put it right into the corner to put Leeds in front. And we could have doubled the lead a few minutes later when Rodrigo’s shot on the edge of the box was blocked but fell nicely for Raphinha. Again he sent his shot further to the left than his last, which unfortunately meant that this time it came back off the post, having not quite curled enough to find the net.
Shortly before the break the Hammers had a chance to grab the equaliser when Fornals was sent through, but Melslier made the save before both players collided with Phillips as the Yorkshire Pirlo rushed back to help out. Thankfully Fornals and Melslier were able to continue after treatment. The final action of the half was a shot from Bowen that curled just past the far post.
During the break Dan James was replaced by Harrison. James had been fairly quiet (was his newborn keeping him up for much of the week?) but had been unlucky at one point when he made a great run into the box, only for a last ditch intervention to ensure that the through ball didn’t reach him. Harrison was to make a few runs in the second period, but tended to try to do too much rather than passing, and didn’t look like he was quite over his spell of Covid.
I was daring to think that we might be heading for our first league win of the season, but West Ham were much improved after the break and we started to find it hard going, with Dallas in particular looking a bit worn out. We were only a few minutes into the second period when we finally had a VAR decision in our favour as West Ham had an equaliser disallowed.
It came from a free kick that it looked like West Ham had messed up before the referee gave them a chance to retake it. And there was more controversy when the free kick was finally taken, as it looked like Meslier was taken out and the Leeds defence protested furiously as Kevin Friend allowed the goal to stand.
But the VAR guys advised Mr. Friend to go and look at the monitor, and that told him that Antonio had put his arm right into Meslier’s face after our keeper was under the ball first. Meslier needed treatment and Antonio picked up a yellow card. Some people around me thought this should have been a straight red, but I guess he got away with it as it was an arm rather than an elbow.
A few minutes later we were indebted to Meslier once again when Soucek climbed above our defence from a corner and our young French keeper had to palm his header away. Then in the midst of some growing West Ham pressure we spurned an excellent chance that might have meant we would have gone on to seal the win.
Raphinha jinked past a couple of defenders and pulled it back to find Klich in plenty of space. The Pole took his time to set up the shot, but still put it wide of the post. Rodrigo could have tapped it in but had raced into an offside position by the time Klich had got the shot away, so left it just in case it was on target.
And so it was that West Ham were still in the game in the 67th minute when the Hammers grabbed a rather fortuitous equaliser. Due to our man marking system Firpo had got dragged inside and this left plenty of space for Bowen to race into down the West Ham right. Cooper came across to close him down and got a touch on Bowen’s cross, but it cannoned into Firpo and into the far corner of the net.
Two minutes later Raphinha’s thigh problem finally got the better of him, after he’d battled on after taking a couple of knocks during the game. The Brazilian went off to be replaced by Roberts, and much of Leeds attacking threat went with him. After that we had a couple of shots on the turn from Rodrigo that lacked the power to trouble Fabianski, and that was about it.
As the game moved into it’s final stages we kept pushing forward rather than closing the game out and settling for a point, but this just left us open at the back as West Ham broke away in the 90th. Minute. A ball from the right found Antonio racing through the middle, and he neatly knocked the ball past Shackleton before rolling it into the far corner. We could have done with having one of the stronger central defenders against him at that point, but that wasn’t to be.
Many of the fans around me thought that Antonio shouldn’t have been on the pitch to score that goal, as apart from clattering Meslier he could have got a second yellow soon afterwards when he clattered into Cooper. There were still five minutes to play once we restarted, not least because of the amount of time it took to clear some celebrating West Ham fans off the pitch. Six of them were arrested.
Summerville came on for Shackleton as Bielsa threw caution to the winds to try and grab an equaliser in injury time, but despite a couple of lively runs he didn’t manage to engineer a breakthrough. So once again we didn’t end up with the result our overall performance deserved, but this latest defeat has seen us drop back into the bottom three.
Inevitably this has led to a lot of talk about whether we are now looking at a relegation battle, although I still think that we are showing signs of getting our act together. Our luck will hopefully improve once we get some of the injured players back and October’s league fixtures are all against teams in the bottom half of the table.
That said, we could really do with a win over Watford next week to get the season up and running.
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