Sheffield United 1 West Ham United 0
Friday, 10th January 2020
by Staff Writer
West Ham United were cruelly robbed of a point as a stoppage time Snodgrass equaliser was ruled out thanks to this year's ludicrous new handball rule.After a David Martin mistake gifted Sheffield United a second half lead, West Ham thought they?EUR(TM)d gained a last gasp equaliser, only for VAR to turn West Ham celebrations to a Bramall Lane full of relief.
It was a painful end to a disciplined performance, one that deserved an away point and saw another injury to Lukasz Fabianski.
David Moyes put the side into a 3-4-2-1 system, Zabaleta coming in on the right for the injured Ryan Fredericks and Manuel Lanzini in the side, his performance at Gillingham impressing his manager enough to warrant inclusion over a rather unlucky Pablo Fornals.
The Argentine's inclusion was part of the reason the side kept the ball so well in a cagey first half.
The initial stages were controlled by the home side, Sheffield United?EUR(TM)s approach coming across as quite similar to Burnley with two big and hardworking strikers and a team looking to get it wide and cause problems.
And it was the Blades who had the first big opportunity. A whipped corner was attacked and won with ease by Egan in front of goal, but his header went over when he met it so comfortably inside the six yard box.
Two minutes later, the Hammers were dealt a blow. Another innocuous looking goal kick was enough for Fabianski to injure himself again, the goalkeeper immediately aware he had re-injured himself. The Pole looked devastated, and his teammates hurt for him. David Martin came on and the need for another goalkeeper in this window was highlighted once more.
Sheffield United regathered after the delay and caused issues again from set pieces, but rather than go into their shells as their talismanic ?EUR~keeper went off injured, the Irons instead grew into the game and started to take control of the ball.
They emerged with some style, led by a confident and controlled Arthur Masuaku. Looking settled in a wing back role, Masuaku?EUR(TM)s passing was sharp and he was threatening with the ball at his feet, moving with pace.
It seemed to encourage Felipe Anderson into the game, which brought Lanzini and Haller to life.
This possession brought a foothold in the game, but little threat. When West Ham did get a chance, it was created by a big clearance forward from back to front.
Martin cleared a ball through the middle and Anderson pounced as the defender got himself under the clearance.
Getting into the area, the Brazilian was behind and in on the goalkeeper, but his shot dribbled wide tamely.
It was the last moment of note in an intriguing but less than eventful opening 45 minutes, one which Moyes must have been relatively content with.
The manager was proving so far to have blended his tactical discipline well with the better parts of a Pellegrini squad; mixing the best of these technical players with a comfortable system.
No changes were made at half time, but Sheffield United flew out of the traps, upping their intensity again to try and force a better performance out of their side. John Fleck will feel he could have done better with two efforts in quick succession from the edge of the box, especially the second as Martin was flat on the floor having dived for the first shot.
The home side again threatened from a set piece, heading over when positioned well again, but it was from there that they got the lead.
From his own goal kick, Martin passed to a retreating Balbuena. The pass was wayward, and Balbuena failed to adjust to the ball, allowing Fleck to steal in, drive into the area and then square the ball to Oli McBurnie, the striker doing just enough to squeeze in an easy chance under the desperate dive of David Martin. It was a gift, and a real blotch on a steady and disciplined away performance.
It also woke up the Bramall Lane crowd, encouraging their side on for more. They may feel they should have got a second, one Baldock chance blocked fantastically by a perfectly timed Cresswell challenge, another chance for substitute Lys Mousset blocked very well by Martin.
But in tight games like these, fine margins are evident. It was the kind of game won by a piece of brilliance or lost by a daft mistake. Unfortunately for West Ham, it was the latter that hurt them.
Whilst it took West Ham until the 76th minute to have a second half shot, a well saved Lanzini freekick, they can look back on a few chances.
Lanzini reacted poorly to a John Egan slip, taking it into the area then shooting from a tight angle when he should have immediately squared to Haller inside the box. The big Frenchman himself made a mess of a headed chance from a wonderful Snodgrass cross, headed straight into the ground and seeing the ball bounce harmlessly over. He had had a lovely goal ruled out for a marginal offside from a Snodgrass freekick earlier.
It all fell to the last, the desperately squeezed in goal that VAR ruled out.
With stoppage time ticking away, a clearance flicked on by Haller, and whilst Snodgrass was beaten to it, Rice stormed forward to the dropping ball, burst away from his man and drove at the box. He then slid in Snodgrass, whose shot slipped in between goalkeeper and post.
It looked like Moyes?EUR(TM)s men had earned a late point, but VAR saw the ball blast off Rice?EUR(TM)s hand in the initial challenge to win the ball. The West Ham players were furious, a fury that remained long after the game, Rice rather emotionally telling TV that every Premier League player wants VAR scrapped.
In truth, it is a poor and harsh rule, one defended due to its consistency, a weak argument - consistently wrong is still consistent, after all.
The performance itself was fine without being stellar. Expected goals would suggest Sheffield United deserved their win - around two for the home side and just less than one for West Ham - but that can?EUR(TM)t take into account the last gasp disallowed goal or how Lanzini wasted a much better chance to take on a shot with a low likelihood of goal. Considering too that West Ham gave Sheffield United their goal and biggest chance, it adds up to the decisive action when the other side falters.
Equally, there were passengers for periods. Zabaleta and Noble were shot in the second half, an extra substitution lost with Fabianski?EUR(TM)s injury. Moyes was indecisive too, and whilst Snodgrass was useful for set pieces, the side looked less functional in-play when he came on. Fornals was brought into the game too late, the side also didn?EUR(TM)t seem to be desperately trying for that equaliser until too late.
It leaves West Ham two points clear of the relegation places, a point above Aston Villa and likely looking nervously at how Watford (three points below) and Bournemouth (two) do against each other on Saturday afternoon. That desperation may well spill into the transfer market too, a goalkeeper looking even more of a necessity, whilst the three youth products on the bench would suggest the squad is stretched and lacking quality. That Noble played 90 minutes is a problem - Moyes couldn?EUR(TM)t see a good option to replace him - whilst Zabaleta for two months seems a bad idea.
Moyes gets the visit of Everton next week to put his first defeat behind him, and one he quite desperately needs to win. Desperation rears its head again.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Nothing to do until a goal kick again was his downfall. Must have been rushed back, his importance so obvious, but questions should be asked of how this has been able to happen again. Darren Randolph failed a medical, is it wise to wait and bring him in?
Solid in defence, but added nothing going forward. He?EUR(TM)s not a wing back, but he is still a good defender. He?EUR(TM)s a fine option in the squad, especially with backs to the wall, but he limited that side of the attack.
The best of the back three, with a couple vital interventions. He was the ball player in the defence - made comfortably our most passes - until Sheffield United worked it out. The short option changed to the other side - Balbuena - and the damage was done there. The block on Baldock was exceptional defending.
Was playing well until the mistake. It was a bad pass by Martin, but Balbeuna should be able to at least adjust a little, whilst looking away when the ball is coming was not smart.
Was reasonably solid, although the defence did wobble a bit after the goal. Equally, the defending at set pieces was not good enough.
Masuaku was both impressive and frustrating. His dribbling looked good, his short passing was fast and controlled. But there?EUR(TM)s little end product, so whilst he made his way up and down the flank well, he needs to prove he can do damage at the sharp end. Not bad, but a little lacking.
Not in the game, really. Second half especially. One long ball completed of five attempted. Looked tired, and it again became a game where Rice had to be at least two people in midfield. But our squad lacks options to replace him.
Robbed of an assist, but his radar was back with his passing and he was good defensively in the middle. Added energy, is showing his game can evolve to see him playing slightly more box-to-box, but he shouldn?EUR(TM)t have to be that man and the best defensive player too. Needs a new signing alongside him.
It?EUR(TM)s nearly there for him, he woke up to play some nice stuff with Haller and Anderson, but he?EUR(TM)s not sparkling and he should have played in Haller when pouncing on that Egan mistake. Whilst he wasn?EUR(TM)t great, he was also the biggest threat in the second half, which says a lot about how tight the game was.
Like Lanzini, he had moments where he looked good, but he seemed to shrink as the game went on. And then he was wiped out by Besic, a tackle that was worse than a yellow but in that area that never gets a red, which injured him and saw him standing pretty still on the pitch for the remaining minutes as we?EUR(TM)d used our subs.
In the first half, he linked well with the two supporting players Lanzini and Anderson, but in the second half his touch often let him down and he stopped chasing balls in behind. His big chance was the header, and he blew it. Suffered as Anderson lost his way in the game.
(Replaced Fabianski) He did make one good save, with what Matthew Upson described as his right hand foot, but that goal kick giveaway was what lost the game. It was sloppy, regardless of Balbuena?EUR(TM)s weird reaction, and quite unnecessary.
(Replaced Masuaku) His set pieces were good and his ?EUR~goal?EUR(TM) was expertly taken, but his introduction seemed to disrupt the way we were playing and it didn?EUR(TM)t really work with the ball in play.
(Replaced Lanzini) He was introduced too late. It would appear Moyes sees him as one of the two to support the striker, but he may have offered the energy in midfield that Noble couldn?EUR(TM)t.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Pablo Zabaleta, Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna, Arthur Masuaku, Mark Noble, Declan Rice, Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson, Sebastien Haller.
Sent off: None.
Sheffield United: Henderson, Baldock, Egan, O'Connell, Basham, Stevens, Lundstram (Besic 70), Fleck, Norwood, McGoldrick (Mousset 60), McBurnie (Sharp 84).
Subs not used: Eastwood, Jagielka, Osborn, Robinson.
Goals: McBurnie (54).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Robert Snodgrass.