West Ham Utd 3 (Rice 31, Bowen 72, Lanzini 90+4)
Leeds United 1 (Rodrigo 17)
21st May 2023, Premier League
This is starting to feel like death by a thousand cuts! Still, we are not mathematically certain to be relegated but we all know that the inevitable will be confirmed this time next week. The chances of Leeds beating Spurs and, at the same time, of Everton failing to beat or at least draw with Bournemouth feels very unlikely; not impossible of course but, very unlikely!
Once again today Leeds flattered to deceive in the opening half hour with numerous runs through the home defence, particularly by the gangling figure of Patrick Bamford, all causing West Ham problems but, as so often this season, too few of those openings resulted in attempts on goal with the final ball usually wasted, and when we did get shots away they were weak or poorly executed.
When we are good we are still a decent outfit but those periods have become so short-lived every game that we are not giving ourselves a chance. Like the little girl in the story though, when we are bad we are horrid!
So it was again today, a bright start, West Ham looking as if they did have a hangover from their midweek European success, and possibly their players all had one eye on that upcoming Europa Conference League Cup Final. Patrick Bamford looked lively and was breaking through the Hammers' backline seemingly at will. It was just that, as so often this season, we couldn’t confirm that period of supremacy with more than a single goal.
Admittedly, the goal, from the boot of Rodrigo, was yet another classy finish, latching perfectly onto a long throw-in from Weston McKennie to smash the ball into the top corner. It was classic Sam Allardyce methodology!
Maybe that was what West Ham needed to wake them up and soon the balance of the game shifted. Leeds seemed to be sitting back, perhaps trying to follow the lead shown by Nottingham Forest yesterday against Arsenal. Sadly, if that was a tactic, we forgot that defensively we are often a shambles whereas Forest remained disciplined and secure. Yet again, having taken the lead, we then seemed to run out of steam and just let the opposition take over the running of the game. 25 points this season have now been squandered from winning positions in games – another unwanted Premier League record.
The equalising goal bore all the regular hallmarks of so many we’ve conceded this season. A simple give-and-go got Bowen behind the Leeds backline, he clipped the ball to the back post and there was Declan Rice, with two Leeds statues too far away to make a difference, to steer the ball into the net, albeit getting a lucky break as he hit the ball into the turf before it found the top corner. The chant heard minutes earlier that Rice was “Just a sh** Kalvin Phillips” now felt particularly hollow.
We all knew it was then just a matter of time before our defences were breached again and the only surprise was that it took so long. The Hammers finally took the lead in the 72nd minute; it could have happened earlier but for the agility of Joel Robles, the one player to have retained his reputation throughout his brief tenure in the team. This time Danny Ings was able to prod the ball through our static backline to Bowen, who, much the same way he broke through us for the first Hammers goal, this time finished the move himself with a neat placement in off the right post.
Inevitably Leeds were then left to chase the game and perhaps unsurprisingly, the more we chased the worse our control got, the substitutes we were able to call upon sort of tell the story of how lightweight a squad we still have – Greenwood, Roca, Aaronson, Summerville and Willy Gnonto all failing to show enough quality on the ball while it was clear that Rodrigo’s legs had gone and as Allardyce confessed afterwards, there was no suitable replacement for him with Bamford already back in the dressing room with another injury. We can only ponder quite how we came to squander £35 million on a striker considered still to be not ready for a game at this level after almost four months. With possibly our best and most effective player, Adam Forshaw, also only having legs for an hour at a time, inevitably the final half hour was disjointed and, at times, comical.
There was plenty of effort from Leeds but no quality whatsoever, while every time West Ham got hold of the ball they oozed the sort of quality we just can’t seem to find. Some of our play was, quite simply embarrassing at times. The final nail in the coffin of this game, if not the season, came deep into added time as Leeds players tumbled and stumbled missing tackle after tackle allowing West Ham to work their way into the area and then prod the ball home. It could have been the Keystone Cops out there dressed in all white.
There wasn’t too much of a demonstration by the Leeds fans at the final whistle, a few vented their anger at individual players but most realised what many of us have known for months; this squad, particularly now it is denuded of Tyler Adams and Luis Sinisterra, and relying on the tired legs of Forshaw and Rodrigo, just is not good enough, neither collectively nor individually. It is hard to criticise the players on the pitch too much, it’s not their fault they are there, it is the fault of the club’s recruitment over more than two years. Too many players brought in have not been good enough and we’ve not thought through the cover any side needs for key players; the loss of Tyler Adams in particular has killed us.
So many lessons have been there to learn from but we’ve failed to heed them and now we are about to pay the biggest price of all.
West Ham Leeds U
Possession 59% 41%
Shots 19 12
On Target 9 3
Corners 9 5
Fouls 6 11