Leeds United 1 (Raphinha 19)
West Ham Utd 2 (Firpo 67 og, Antonio 90)
Man, this game can be so cruel and unfair sometimes, and you just never know what’s round the corner. It’s why we love it so much I guess. This game was there for the taking and, for 66 minutes we were taking it, taking a very useful and successful West Ham to the cleaners. We finally seemed to have an XI on the pitch working in perfect harmony and we finally started to play the sort of football that we saw so often last season; it had taken us half a dozen games to find our MO again but here it was. Then, in a couple of minutes, it all went pear-shaped.
We’d seen Charlie Cresswell dominate the Fulham forwards on Tuesday and, after high praise from Bielsa in his press conference this week we all wondered if he might get another chance in the admittedly tougher world of the Premier League. I understand it was a late decision, but Charlie got the call. Many fans had been calling for Jamie Shackleton to get a run in the side too, arguing that his effervescent enthusiasm and stamina was just the tonic for a Leeds side that had often looked short of both this season. Hey presto, despite the absence of the likes of Ayling, Bamford and a host of centre backs, this Leeds XI suddenly clicked into gear and not against any old side, against a West Ham side widely tipped to have a really good season.
Leeds dominated the first half and got the early goal that we all know is so vital for the way we play. West Ham looked painfully slow as Rodrigo pounced on the ball on half-way and chased into the area and found Matty Klich with his low ball across the box. Matty had the calm sense to spot Raphinha and the Brazilian’s left boot did the rest. It was a lovely team goal of the sort we dined out on so often last season. Everything was falling into place.
Had Raphinha’s next curling left-footer found net and not post later in the half I think the Hammer’s spirit would have been well and truly broken and we may well have gone on to build a cricket score, but sadly it didn’t. We had a second opportunity to grab the all-important second goal early in the new half but this time Matty Klich wasn’t quite as calm, or at least he wasn’t quite as accurate as his shot was deflected wide and not into the gaping corner of the net. It was a miss to be honest but, as yet, we didn’t know how costly it would be.
Everyone was doing their job well and the Leeds machine finally, for the first time this season really, started to purr and the jigsaw looked complete. Yes, Illan Meslier was called upon twice in that first period, once to claw away a clever shot that was heading for the top corner and then once to save the blushes of Kalvin Phillips as he was robbed and West Ham broke quickly. Out came the young stopper and the danger was averted. In fact the only player who did look a bit jaded today was our super hero, the Yorkshire Pirlo who looked absolutely shattered by the end and was guilty of a few errors which we quite simply don’t usually see these days!
So, everything was going just swell thank you very much and then, in the space of a couple of minutes the game changed out of all recognition. It had always looked as if the Hammers would need a stroke luck to get back into the game and, in the 67th minute, they got it. Bowen made his way into the Leeds area on the right, twisted and turned and then fired a weak shot at goal. It deflected first off Liam Cooper and then off Firpo’s backside and that was enough to deceive the otherwise unbeatable Illan Meslier. Within a couple of minutes Raphinha had left the pitch, complaining again that the injury picked up in the North East was still affecting him and with him our inspiration also disappeared.
Jack Harrison had replaced Dan James at the interval and that had been a pretty seamless change – although Jack once again will be disappointed with his overall contribution. But the introduction of Tyler Roberts for the injured Raphinha on 69 minutes, just after that Hammers equaliser, seemed to disrupt the whole balance of the side. Tyler Roberts is a player struggling for an identity in this Leeds squad, while today Raphinha was centre stage as the main performer. It may have just been that the Hammers’ tails were now up and they suddenly saw the glint of a possible three points, or maybe the Raphinha shaped hole in the side was too great a disturbance to our equilibrium. I’m not sure, but from that moment on, West Ham took control and we all knew we were then holding on for the point.
We so nearly got there too despite several players suddenly looking heavy legged, but then Declan Rice intervened. In one devastating run he won the ball and sent a lovely curving pass into the path of the marauding Antonio who somehow got past Shackleton before sliding it home. Cruel, cruel, cruel.
So, at the end of the day it was another winless outing , but I think there are more positives than negatives to pick out of this one. I think we may be seeing the end of the regular shuffling of the pack by Bielsa when we face an injury. We at last seem to be trying to play folk in their natural positions and replacing like for like. If we’re in this situation again, surely we’ll now use the likes of Charlie Cresswell and not move everyone else along the back four just to cover one injury. Charlie has made the grade and I hope he gets a prolonged run. Similarly with Jamie Shackleton. OK, I still have a problem with replacing Raphinha with Tyler Roberts… there must be better options in our ever improving Under 23s than that one!
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Leeds were tremendous for 67 minutes today just because of a 90th minute concession. I’ve felt all season that our results have been worse than our performances and this was the case again today. The starting XI today finally brought us some harmony and we looked like a team again, looked like the team that did us proud last season. I’m sure it’s coming folks. Let’s just be patient for a little longer and hope that Watford finally feel the full force of what we all know can still be a team that can do well this season.
Leeds Utd WestHam
Possession 54% 46%
Shots 15 20
On Target 5 7
Corners 5 7
Fouls Committed 10 6