Sheffield United 0 West Ham United 1
Sunday, 22nd November 2020
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham United went into Sunday evening 8th in the Premier League table as a tight 1-0 win at Sheffield United kept David Moyes's side moving forwards.In a game they will feel should have ended much more comfortably, West Ham missed big chances and saw the home side waste a few of their own to make what was a controlled performance always have an air of tension and worry.
In truth, the Hammers were almost always the better team and should have won by a bigger margin, and they will go away happy with three points, another clean sheet and a goal for the much-maligned Haller.
All of Sheffield United's real gusto came in the first ten minutes, ten minutes in which they looked to fly forward and get in the face of their opponents. Their intensity gave them an edge that West Ham seemed to struggle to match.
It nearly paid off too, with a long pass from the back catching Masuaku half-asleep and seeing George Baldock sprint in behind and into the area, his low half-volley saved well by Fabianski.
West Ham were slow, not really showing any fluency and looking outmatched on work-rate and desire.
As the likes of Masuaku, Cresswell and Fornals settled into the game and starting making problems down the left, the Blades dropped deeper and started to look to play more on the counter attack. They had one moment of success, pinching the ball from that trio and breaking down their right, the ball worked to McBurnie in the area and volleyed straight at Fabianski when the goal-shy striker had the time and space to finish much better, crucially not the only time he let West Ham off when in a strong position.
But he couldn't punish the mistake and his team looked to have missed their opening to take advantage of a slow-starting West Ham.
Instead it was Moyes's side who grew more confident and took control of the ball and the game.
A lot of that came from Masuaku, his beguiling footwork and desire to run forward, always ably supported by Aaron Cresswell, giving his side a threat at speed and something Sheffield United seemed to fear.
It was his magic on the ball that made a chance down the right possible. He spun away from his man, somehow, before playing inside to Bowen, who fed Coufal into the right side of the box but at a tough angle, the wing back forcing a good but comfortable save.
Six minutes later, just after the half hour mark, the first really clear chance came for West Ham. Fornals clipped a lovely ball to the edge of the box and Haller reacted brilliantly, climbing to cushion a header over the defence and right into the path of Soucek's run. The Czech midfielder scored in midweek for his country, but missed a simple chance yards from goal as he found the ball with his heel rather than the side of his foot, skewing the attempt wide when he really should have scored.
It was about 25 minutes of complete West Ham control, but no goal and the 0-0 remained. The hosts reminded them of that danger, McBurnie testing Fabianski with a good header, and then his side hit the post from the resulting corner, although that was quickly ruled offside.
The game remained on that knife edge as half-time came, Bowen somewhat wasting a good opportunity from another clever Fornals pass just before the whistle came.
It was a pretty dull half, West Ham the better side but not having much to brag about with that claim.
The second half was better, albeit still not a riveting watch. It was again almost all West Ham, and eventually the relentless pressure started to yield chances. They were often fractions away from great chances, but it was only one in the end that they needed to fall right.
Ten minutes after the restart, that moment came. And it came for the man most were hoping wouldn't play this game, most fans hoping Michail Antonio would return to lead the West Ham attack and replace the frustrating and frustrated figure of Sebastien Haller.
He deserved it too, not just for the brilliance of the strike, but the work he put in and the battles he fought and won that will go unnoticed.
This couldn't be ignored. Sheffield United, clearly lacking confidence and without an answer to West Ham's organisation, took decent possession and turned it into a hurried clearance on their goalkeeper's weaker foot.
The aimless punt was swept up by Coufal, who played it forward for Bowen. He gave it to Fornals on the edge of the box, who worked a little space and tried his shot. The block was inevitable, but the ball fell to Haller who let it roll across him before rifling an effort towards the top corner, too powerfully for the outstretched hand of Ramsdale and into the back of the net for his first goal from outside the box in a top division.
He should have had more, heading over from a corner and missing huge chance yards from goal after Masuaku fired the ball in low. The striker will know he should have done adjusted his feet much better and given his side a comfortable lead.
Rice headed off the bar from an excellent Cresswell corner and West Ham often found themselves in and around the area without space for the final pass or an effort on goal. At the other end, Sheffield United rarely threatened, and the performances of Rice and Ogbonna in particular were worthy of note.
For all of that, McBurnie was presented with that one big chance the chasing side often get, and one his side did not really deserve.
When the ball was lost down the left, Brewster turned in the middle of the park and played a ball over the defence to get his strike partner in behind.
McBurnie raced onto, clear of the defence and into the area, only to smash his shot against the bar when he should have scored. His side didn't deserve the point he'd have earned them, but as a relegation threatened side it is these margins that you remember when the points towards safety start to run out.
Instead it was all three going to West Ham, Moyes guiding his side into the top half and six points off apparent title winners Tottenham. It was tight, it was tense but it was the reward that West Ham deserved for outplaying their opponents and showing the resolve that is keeping them rolling this season and was so lacking in the last.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
When they came asking, Fabianski answered well and made good saves, even if they were saves he'd have been disappointed not to make.
A very effective game from the right. Got forward well but was very aware of what was behind him. He snaps into tackles well, especially to steal the ball and did so around the halfway a few times to get moves started, notably for the goal.
Again, his ball skills were excellent and, at times, one of the only things keeping the game interesting. He pulls off the outrageous at least once a game. Couldn't quite find his radar on delivery, but made the big chance Haller should have scored and, after a poor start, was better defensively as the game went on.
In control throughout and his composure grows and grows with his settled game time. One worry would be McBurnie finding the space behind him for the big chance.
When challenged, quite imperious. He was rarely challenged, but dealt with it all in stride and looks every inch an Italian international centre back.
Is playing with confidence, rightly so, and passing the ball around comfortably and calmly. His set-pieces have been excellent and he was unlucky not to get an assist after crosses found heads in good positions.
It will go unnoticed outside of West Ham, call it the England factor, but Rice was fantastic today, smart in positions and nicking the ball in areas where Sheffield United felt they were building something. It was a great afternoon to watch him play, his passing more adventurous than with England and he roamed to support attacks really well, including that header that hit the bar. In these games, he looks almost the total midfielder, making the most passes in the game, ruining their attacks and starting West Ham's.
Neat and tidy today, his one real moment on the attack standing out for just how bad a miss it was. A few good clearances and worked well in there, but a rather calm and middling performance.
Like Bowen, he's always involved in West Ham attacks, even if his running isn't always used. Worked hard, as ever, drifted infield well and gets an assist for his blocked shot. His pass to Haller that led to the Soucek chance was brilliant, as was his curling ball that fed Bowen to run into the area. Him and Masuaku play very well together.
Another game where he came so close to being quite excellent and could have been the decisive player, whilst working himself into the ground and doing his defensive work too. There is surely a feeling he will strike hot at one point and go on a consistent goalscoring run.
He deserved that goal, if just to quieten down people who call him lazy. There were clear moments where he ran hard and worked to be a presence. More quietly, he uses his body excellently to hold off defenders and can do little touches with a defender hanging off him that others don't have the strength or nous to achieve. The finish was brilliant, and he could have had one or two more. A good performance, although he should have been replaced late on when tired and unable to defend alone from the front.
(Replaced Fornals, 76) Stayed disciplined and moved well with the ball in tight areas to keep some control when things could have started to get desperate.
(Replaced Bowen, 90) On for mere moments.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Arthur Masuaku, Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Sebastien Haller.
Goals: Sebastien Haller 56 .
Sent off: None.
Sheffield United: Ramsdale, Basham (Lunstram 76), Egan, Fleck, Baldock, Norwood (Brewster 65), Ampadu (Robinson 62), Berge, Lowe, McBurnie, McGoldrick.
Subs not used: Verrips, Burke, Jagielka, Osborn.
Sent off: None.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the Match: Declan Rice.