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West Ham United 2 v 3 Leeds United
Barclays Premier League
Sunday, 16th January 2022 Kick-off 14:00
Harrison Hat-Trick earns Leeds a vital win at West Ham
Sunday, 16th Jan 2022 22:07 by Tim Whelan

When West Ham United equalised twice I thought it would be like the games at Spurs and Chelsea, when we played very well and came away with nothing. But not this time. The London curse was finally broken and we scored again to come home with all three points from this dramatic game.

Our injury crisis seemed to have eased a little, with Struijk returning just in time to replace the suspended Llorente. Rodrigo was available once again, but he was only deemed fit enough to raise the average age of the subs bench, while there was still no sign of Patrick Bamford, so James had to continue in the unlikely role of our lone striker.

We began with Ayling in central defence and Dallas at right back, with Koch again playing as the defensive midfield player in the continued absence of Phillips. But despite having to field a makeshift side once again Leeds made a lively start, and took the lead after only ten minutes, while our fans were again making most of the atmosphere, despite our numbers being greatly reduced compared to last week’s cup tie.

A long ball down the flank from Ayling found Raphinha, and Fabianski had to get down smartly to block Klich’s shot from the Brazilian’s cut-back. But Forshaw was quickest to react and picked out Harrison, who had time to place his shot into the corner of the net, with the West Ham keeper only able to get a fingertip to the ball.

After the shock of going behind West Ham finally began to wake up, and they would put us under pressure for much of the remainder of the half. Antonio was being a nuisance once again and Dallas had to be alert to block his shot from close range, while Dawson headed narrowly wide from a corner.

Meanwhile our injury problems were rearing up yet again, just when they seemed to have eased a little. Forshaw and Firpo had to limp off with hamstring trouble within a few minutes of each other, with Bate and Hjelde coming on. The young Norwegian went into central defence (where he was excellent once again) and Ayling returned to right back and Dallas moved over to the left.

Perhaps Drameh would have got a game if he hadn’t flounced off to Cardiff. We could have picked up a third injury as Antonio caught Koch with a dangerous tackle that was only deemed worthy of a yellow, but thankfully the German was able to pick himself up and continue. A few minutes later Antonio risked a second yellow by going down a little theatrically in the box, but it was nothing doing from referee Mike Dean.

West Ham’s pressure told in the 34th minute, as our weakness from set pieces was our undoing once again. Dallas failed to keep track of Bowen’s movement at a corner, leaving the West Ham man free to find the net with a strong downward header. He gave a sly grin as he made a ssssh gesture towards the Leeds fans behind that goal, but he wouldn’t be laughing on 90 minutes. At this point it looked like West Ham would go on to take control, but we were back in front only three minutes later.

Ayling outjumped the Hammers defence to meet Raphinha’s corner, and Harrison was allowed to run in unchallenged to bundle the ball home from close range. I waited for a possible VAR check before celebrating, but despite Fabianski’s appeal he was comfortably onside when Ayling headed the ball, he just looked off when he reached the ball because the West ham defence hadn’t reacted.

There was another anxious moment at the other end when Rice went round Meslier, but then found himself with too narrow an angle and could only shoot into the side netting. Then James had an excellent chance to put Leeds further in front when a through ball sent him through on goal, but he tried to chip Fabianski and didn’t get enough on it, so in the end it was a comfortable save.

And James had another chance just before the break when he cut in from the left but didn’t quite get enough curl on his shot and it went narrowly wide, though Fabianski might have had it covered anyway. So we went in only 2-1 up at half time, and it took West Ham only seven minutes after the restart to equalise for a second time.

Rice collected the ball in midfield, and although Antonio struggled to control his pass it fell kindly for Fornals. The Spaniard still had a lot to do, but jinked past Ayling and Struijk before deceiving Meslier with a shot just inside the near post. Once again I was fearing the worst, and I was beginning to curse James for not taking the chance at the end of the first half that might have made the game safe. But incredibly, we went in front again on the hour.

Ayling nipped in to intercept a clearance and played it to Raphinha. The Brazilian had time and space to consider his options, before he opted to play an excellent through ball to meet Harrison’s run into the box on the left. Fabianski slightly hesitated as he came out, giving Harrison the chance to dink the ball over the keeper as he started to spread himself, and it dropped nicely into the back of the net.

Shortly afterwards we used our final substitution as Bate was taken off for Rodrigo, which seemed harsh on the young man as he had done nothing wrong, but perhaps Bielsa wanted a bit more experience to see the game out. We could have sat back on defence, but true to Bielsa’s philosophy we kept going forwards and twice in the next few minutes we were close to increasing the lead.

Raphinha was brought down as he raced into a dangerous position, which earned Lanzini a yellow card. Raphinha stepped up to take the free kick himself and it smacked off the post with Fabianski rooted to the spot. Then we thought we had scored the fourth goal, only to have it chalked off for offside in unfortunate circumstances.

Raphinha skipped past Diop before spotting Klich running into the area unchallenged. The Pole smashed the ball into the net, but unfortunately it clipped Rodrigo on the way in, the Spaniard having run into the six-yard box for a ball across the face of goal. He hadn’t had time to get back or out of the way, and VAR confirmed that the ball had hit him and that he was in an offside position when it did so.

After this setback Leeds were determined not to let the lead slip once again, still getting forward at every opportunity and throwing ourselves into challenges, with Koch and James picking up yellow cards. As the clock ticked down West Ham pressed forward for the equaliser they needed to avoid losing ground in the race for the top four, but Hjelde was playing superbly at the back, certainly not looking out of place on his Premier League debut.

And we had Meslier to thank, firstly for a fine double save before Bowen put the rebound in from an offside position, with VAR being in our favour this time as it confirmed the linesman’s flag was correct. Then our noble custodian made another fine stop to deny Yarmolenko, but the Hammers really should have snatched the win from us in the final minute of injury time.

For once we switched off as a free kick was played down the left to find Antonio in plenty of space, and his cross deflected off Dallas to fall kindly for Bowen. For a second Bowen seemed certain to score, and he would have done if he’d stooped to head the ball. But he opted to try to control it in with his chest, and it bounced off him and over the bar from no more than five yards out.

Moments later Mike Dean blew the final whistle, and Harrison was able to claim the match ball for the first ever hat-trick of his career. This was an incredible away win over a side with ambitions at the other end of the table, with a makeshift team that needed further patching up in the first half hour of the game.

But David Moyes didn’t see it that way in his graceless post-match interview when he gave Leeds little credit, blaming the defeat on the fact they played in midweek while we didn’t. It was only against Norwich, so it was hardly a Leeds 1970 style fixture plie-up. Neither of our postponed games could have been re-arranged for last week, as both Liverpool and Villa already had midweek fixtures of their own.

The victory takes us above Everton on the day the Toffees sacked Rafa Benitez, which is a shame because he was doing such an excellent job for us. More importantly we are now nine points above the dreaded third bottom slot with a game in hand on Norwich, and if we can get a third successive win over Newcastle next week we might dare to start dreaming of mid-table security.

Reuters



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