West Ham United v Leeds United

Preview Percy saw in the New Year relatively quietly. Nothing caught fire, there were no arrests and no much-loved television personalities required replacement hearing aid appliances. Which meant that he had time to put together his look at this weekend’s FA Cup 3rd Round visit of Leeds United. You can’t have everything one supposes...

Next up we face Leeds United in the Third Round of the Football Association Challenge Cup. Usual rules, if the sponsors want to send me a few plane tickets they can have a mention otherwise proper competition names only around here. Kick-off is at 2pm with extra time and kicks from the penalty mark being available to decide the tie in the event of level scores after 90 mins. Engineering works may make things more convenient for once, with Fenchurch Street being closed trains will be diverted to Stratford and Liverpool Street. Check before you leave etc.

So Leeds then. Well after their promising-ish return to the top flight after however many years it was last term they are finding it a bit more of a grind this time around. Covid postponements meant that they played just the four matches in December. They opened with a 2-2 draw at home to Brentford, Bamford’s 96th minute equaliser rescuing the point.

They then lost to a similarly late – and iffy – penalty to Chelsea who prevailed 3-2 on the night. That match had its ill-tempered moments but nothing to compare with the 1970 Cup Final and replay which is worth a watch on You Tube if you can find it. The word brutal leaps to mind. I recall a referee from these days being shown the replay in full and stating that the match would have had to be abandoned as sendings-off would have reduced both teams to fewer than the seven a side required to play a match.

They followed that with a 7-0 defeat at Man City of which Bielsa was honest enough to admit that there were no redeeming features. A 4-1 defeat at Arsenal followed before matches against Liverpool away and Villa at home fell foul of the virus. They opened this year with a much-needed win against fellow strugglers Burnley, prevailing 3-1 to give them their first win since a 1-0 win over Palace at the end of November.

The Burnley win was only their fourth in the league this season and gave them a little bit of a breathing space, placing them in 16th spot with 19 points from the 19 played so far. That’s six points clear of Watford and eight clear of Burnley who occupy the top of the trapdoor places ahead of Newcastle and Norwich. So out of trouble for the time being but with an eye open over the shoulder just in case.

It's early days for the winter window just yet and Daisy informs me that they have yet to add to the first-team squad with which they started the season. The squad is a bit light at the moment. In defence centre half Liam Cooper has a hamstring problem which will keep him out of contention until March at least. It’s a similar prognosis for Declan Rice’s junior partner at international level Kalvin Phillips whose hamstring is similarly pinged. Midfielder Jamie Shackleton is recovering from an Achilles issue. Those three all have amassed double figures in league appearances this season so are big misses.

Jason Bamford is also a major doubt. He is recovering from a thigh injury and the latest reports suggest that he is still suffering discomfort from that. The official statement is that, although rated as 50/50, the wisdom of bringing him back into the first team right away is being questioned.

Rodrigo, Struijk and Charlie Cresswell, who you will recall made an impressive debut up at Elland Road in the league fixture earlier this season, are all definitely ruled out.

Top scorer so far this season is Brazilian winger Rapinha. He’s quite a skilful and tricky little blighter and his progress at Elland Road is such that he made his debut for the Brazilian national side in October, impressing with a number of goals and assists in the qualifying rounds. His form has attracted the attention of a number of scouts across Europe. There is talk of a new contract but even so the rumour is that any new deal will need to include some form of release clause before it is signed.

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This being a Cup match of course it is likely that changes would have been considered to the starting eleven. However, with so many injuries I suspect that the starting line up will not be too dissimilar to that which turned out against Burnley, especially since the yellow cards picked up by Llorente and Roberts will preclude any involvement in the league fixture a week later.

And so we move on to the wild and wacky world of Association Football. The football amnesty on Liverpool reached a new low as Mane’s assault on Azpilicueta went unpunished. The referee was Anthony Taylor who had such a poor game when we played Arsenal to the extent that apologies were issued. Since it is clear that the official has little idea of what he is doing how about rewarding his performance with the re-training that is so clearly required, rather than rewarding his incompetence with further high profile games?

Meanwhile Chelsea had some internal strife to deal with, with Romelu Lukaku having told TV audiences back in Italy how much he missed things back there and how tiresome it was not being in the Chelsea side. This led to him being dropped from the squad.. Obviously, his wages would hinder us from making a cheeky loan bid but the thought did occur – if only to stop the bugger scoring against us. In any case clear the air talks were held and he is now back in the fold for whenever they play minor opposition. He is likely to face Chesterfield in the Cup at the weekend and also faced Spurs in the League Cup.

And so to us then. Odd game that. The old adage of you get what you deserve if you don’t take your chances was amply demonstrated. Both our open play goals were superb, with the impressive Lanzini’s first probably being the pick of them. We still looked iffy at the back though and the returns of Zouma and Cresswell can’t come soon enough.

When their first went in there was a worrying inevitability of the arrival of the second and the overhead kick right at the end nearly dropped us points. Still had to laugh at their supporters though one of whom was going on about how noisy they were at the end. Warming up in silence for 85 minutes clearly helps.

Their ground hasn’t improved any though the view was hindered by the teen element of our support some of whom appear to believe that once through the turnstiles they can stand where they like. The spotty Herbert who pushed his way into our row with his mates can count himself lucky that he encountered someone as tolerant as yours truly – had he gone in a row or two behind there were a few gentlemen who might have ejected him with a lot more force than I did. For the record, find the seat on your ticket and stand there. It’s not rocket science is it.

Our injury list is as it was with the potential for a return for Fornals if he can get one little red line on his test thing rather than two. We will be without Benhrama who is bound for the African Cuppasoup with Algeria though. We do have the opportunity to rest one or two but I would think that we would stop well short of the virtual youth XI that started the Zagreb game. I’d look at something like the eleven that started the League Cup quarter final for a template.

So on to the subject of the prediction then. Always tricky for cup games when you are trying to second guess how many first XI players will be involved for either side. However I reckon that our second string should have enough to deal with what they can muster. So the £2.50 that I was going to use to buy Mane’s “Get Out Of Jail Free” card to see how much that’s worth in real life will instead be going on a home win. Let’s go for 3-1 to us please Mr Winstone!

Enjoy the game!

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When last we met at the Olympic Won 2-0 (Premier League March 2021)
A tight VAR offside decision ruled out an early opener for Roberts but after that it was relatively comfortable. Lingard opened the scoring after his penalty had been saved by Meslier, the rebound falling kindly for him. Leeds were all over the place at set pieces and Dawson nodded home for Cresswell’s corner having been given the freedom of the box. Dawson hit the post and Fornals the bar either side of the interval for a relatively easy three points.

Referee/VAR: Stuart Atwell/Peter Bankes
Atwell, who clearly has photos of Mike Riley in compromising positions stashed away somewhere, was in charge of the Arsenal v Man City game the other day. With hilarious consequences. Banks is a relative rookie which has the usual implications for the overturning of mor senior officials’ original decisions.

Danger Man: Rapinha
Tricky and skilful. A close eye will be required.

Percy’s Poser
It was recipie time in the Croydon Advertiser last week where the following headline appeared:

Mum living in constant fear that 4-year-old son will eat XXXXX XXX

Well done to Mrs Sophia Protein-Spike of Westcliffe-On-Sea for spotting the missing words as “Mouse Poo”. That’s Croydon for you.

This week we have a heartwarmer from Leeds:

Leeds woman who was sectioned completes XX XXXX-XXXXXXXXX in 24 days.

Best of luck!

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