West Ham United 2 (Lanzini 34, Bowen 90+3)                  

Leeds United          0                                                                  

I don’t know quite what it is about playing in London, but almost every time I come home after watching Leeds there, I feel we’ve either been cheated or we’ve just let ourselves down. It’s been going on for years. Today was no different but it’s done now and we have to focus instead on our rapid return next Sunday when three vital league points will be at stake.

Leeds went into this game understrength, we knew that was going to be the case as we continue to struggle with the numbers in the medical room still hovering around double figures. Having said that though, I am personally at a loss to understand quite why we didn’t put out our best XI from the start today if we really were interested in winning through to the 4th round. With a week of rest since our last game, and a week between the two games in the London Stadium, surely it made sense to play our best players? But we didn’t; we went into battle against a strong West Ham side in decent form with three full debutants in Lewis Bate, Leo Hjelde and Sam Greenwood while leaving Adam Forshaw, Stuart Dallas and Raphinha on the bench. I remember having this debate in previous seasons too when we did the same; if we are protecting senior players or trying to give them a rest, then you’d leave them out completely surely and not risk them rather than stick them on the bench and then still bring them on later? I honestly do not understand the logic.

I do understand though what it does to the team: it weakens it far too much to enable us to compete with a team as strong as the Hammers! Actually, to be fair, we still did compete and the youngsters, in the main, did themselves no harm at all, but that just makes me even more convinced that we missed a trick today and, had we had our three big guns on the pitch from the start, I think we might have had enough to beat the Hammers. We’ll never know of course.

There wasn’t’ much between the sides in the first half, apart from perhaps the additional experience that the Irons had on the pitch. We battled manfully without ever looking dominant but no one could have complained had we gone into the break level. That we didn’t was down to a moment of shoddy defending compounded by an inexplicable interpretation of the video playback of the West Ham goal.

I am a big proponent of VAR, always have been, but decisions such as we saw today make me wonder if it’s ever going to be accepted. I have seen no one in the media who believes that Bowen should not have been given offside – you can all see the still pictures that clearly show him offside and there can be no doubt that he then became active and could not possibly be interpreted as not interfering with play. How can so many ‘experts’ come to that conclusion and yet Peter Bankes, with replays galore and multiple angles, come to a different view? It is incomprehensible, and the fact that these referees are not held accountable and never have to explain their decisions makes having any belief in their abilities to do the job properly very difficult indeed.

So, once again, after a decent, if not stellar first half, our young Leeds side was on the wrong end of a dubious decision in London that put us a goal down. In the second half, we finally turned to Raphinha and Stuart Dallas and, later, Adam Forshaw, and we did start to fashion some chances. OK, we couldn’t take them, not for the first time this season, but there was at least some confidence that next week, playing our best available XI from the start, there seems no reason why we can’t get something out of that arguably more important game. Sooner or later our luck in the Capital will change … won’t it? It wasn’t just that first-half goal of course, it was the blatant handball in the second half too that has to go down to bad luck – bad luck that we once again had such incompetent officials deciding our fate.

In terms of individual player performances today, no one really stood out either positively or negatively. A couple of the youngsters looked quite at home in this company, particularly Leo Hjelde and Lewis Bate in the first half and then Cody Drameh and Crysencio Summerville in the second. Sam Greenwood looked a bit behind the others I thought at this level. Of the established stars, my only disappointment concerned Raphinha who, as he has a few times recently, looked to be maybe trying too hard. Too often his final ball went astray when we know perfectly well that he is better than that. The rest all did their jobs without reaching the heights that we know they can.

The FA Cup is therefore done for another year and we knew beforehand that it was not the main event; that starts again next week, same time same place. It looks as though we already know the team that will start as we are unlikely to have any of the walking wounded back by then. If we can just get some luck down there in the Smoke for once, we could well be a lot happier this time next week. Let’s hope so anyway!

Game Statistics:

 

                              West Ham Utd Leeds Utd

Possession                  48%               52%

Shots                             17                     8

On Target                       7                     2 

Corners                          4                      2

Fouls  Committed       4                     12

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