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West Ham United 2 v 0 Leeds United
FA Cup
Sunday, 9th January 2022 Kick-off 14:00
Battling Leeds knocked out of the FA Cup at the London Stadium
Sunday, 9th Jan 2022 19:01 by Tim Whelan

West Ham United created the better chances in this game, but ultimately it was decided by a couple of VAR decisions that went against us, which is very hard to take.

As our injury crisis continues Marcello Bielsa made a couple of changes for this game, but it wasn’t that far short of the strongest starting eleven he could have fielded in the circumstances. There were rumours that Bamford could have been involved at some stage, but also that he’s picked up another injury. Either way, he wasn’t included in the matchday squad.

With Leeds close to running out of central defenders Hjelde made his debut, though Koch was in front of him in a midfield position. Bate was another debutant, and Greenwood got a rare start, in the absence of any other striking options. Raphinha was on the bench, which at least meant that James and Harrison could both start in their favoured positions.

Much would depend on how strong a team David Moyes would send out for the opposition, but he clearly sees the FA Cup as a competition they can win, so he’s taking it seriously. And for much of the first half West Ham enjoyed the bulk of possession against our inexperienced side, and they had the best of the early chances, with Ayling having to clear a shot from Bowen off the line. When we managed to get forward West Ham managed to get players back in numbers and we found it hard to play through.

At times our play was a little disjointed, perhaps because we had a combination of players who haven’t played together that often, and the best we could manage was shots from distance from bate and Greenwood which were some way off target. In general there was plenty of effort from both sides all over the field, but not much excitement in front of goal at either end.

After half an hour I was thinking that in the old days of replays I would have been quite happy for this to continue to the end and for it to finish 0-0, but in present circumstances we would somehow have to break through to win the tie, as it had to finish on the day. Meanwhile the huge Leeds contingent in the crowd were doing their best to raise the team, and taunting the hosts by asking “is this a library?”

But it was West Ham who achieved the breakthrough in the 34th minute, in rather contentious circumstances, to say the least. Antonio turned and played a neat pass to play Vlasic in, and when Meslier couldn’t hold the ball under pressure from Bowen it fell kindly to Lanzini. The Argentine completed the simple task of shooting past the various Leeds defenders on the line to put the Hammers in front.

So it was over to the VAR mob to consider whether there had been an offside when Vlasic took the initial shot. The replay showed that Bowen was clearly in an offside position by the width of a kneecap, but inexplicably they ruled that he wasn’t interfering with play, despite being only a foot away from Meslier as our keeper tried to gather the ball. And if Bowen didn’t touch the ball, shouldn’t it have been a foul on the goalkeeper?

With that goal dividing the teams at the break, Bielsa decided to bring on a bit more experience in an attempt to get back into the tie, and Leeds would look more dangerous going forward as a result. Greenwood and Bate were replaced by Dallas and Raphinha, with James having to move inside to play as a striker.

But it was the hosts who had the first decent chance of the second period, with Meslier having to be alert to save with his legs after Bowen took a shot with his weaker right foot. Bielsa’s made his next change by giving Ayling a rest, with Forshaw coming on and Dallas going to right back. The next substitution was enforced, as Firpo hadn’t really recovered from a first-half collision with Meslier, and had to be replaced due to suspected concussion.

This meant that Dallas had to switch to left-back (his third position in only 24 minutes) while Drameh came on at right-back. Perhaps the need to replace Firpo could have been foreseen, so we could have avoided taking Ayling off a few minutes earlier. Drameh managed to get forward down the right several times as Leeds sought an equaliser, though some of his passing showed he wasn’t always on the same wavelength as his colleagues.

With so many injuries already, we certainly don’t need any more, but hopefully Firpo will have recovered before our next game, at the same venue next week. There was another worrying moment when Klich went down clutching his knee, which would have been a muscle injury as he hadn’t been challenged, but thankfully the Pole was able to continue.

With 20 minutes left we created our best chance so far as a firmly struck cross from Klich came through to Harrison, but he had got a little ahead of the ball and couldn’t turn in time to direct it on target. Harrison might also have been distracted by James’ attempt to get to the ball before it reached him. We also had a good penalty shout when a defender leant into the ball and it touched his upper arm, but again VAR ruled against us.

Bielsa made a final attacking substitution by sending Summerville on for Hjelde, with Raphinha moving to the central midfield role that some fans have advocated for him. So we ended the game with four wingers on the field, a record even for Bielsa. Or five if you count Dallas, who was a winger when we first signed him from Brentford.

Fredricks had the opportunity to seal the game for West Ham when he shot across the face of goal and narrowly wide of the far post, but a better option would have been to pass to one of his colleagues in the centre. After this let off Leeds had the one late chance that could have kept us in the FA Cup.

But when the ball came quickly through to James right in front of goal he couldn’t adjust his feet quickly enough once a defender failed to block the cross, and it bounced wide off his heel. On the slow-motion replay we could see it wasn’t as bad a miss as it looked at normal speed, but I thought a natural striker might have been ready in case the defender missed the cross. And Jemaine Beckford said exactly the same thing in his pundit role after the game.

Five minutes injury time were announced, and Meslier went up for a corner, but sadly nothing came of it. And a minute later West Ham were able to break upfield when we still had players committed at the other end of the field. By then Meslier had got back, but Bowen was in plenty of space when Antonio’s cross picked him out, and he put the ball through Meslier’s legs to put the tie out of our reach.

Ultimately it was the dodgy first goal that decided this tie, as West Ham wouldn’t have got the second if we hadn’t had so many defenders downfield as we desperately sought an equaliser. Which is galling, even though I hadn’t expected much from this game before the start. I have to admit that West Ham were the better side, and that we had suffered from our age-old problem of being unable to convert our chances into goals.

Even it had finished 0-0 after 90 minutes we would still have had to have somehow forced a winner in extra time or beat them on penalties to progress. So West Ham might have been thought favourites to progress, but it would have been nice for Leeds to have had the chance to play the extra 30 minutes.

I had quite fancied an FA Cup run after the win over Burnley had eased our relegation fears a little, and we could have progressed further, as the fourth round draw would have given us a first-ever trip to Kidderminster. But it’s not to be, and we’re now back to the bread and butter of the Premier League for the rest of the season.


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