Leeds United 2 West Ham United 2
Wednesday, 4th January 2023
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham did enough to halt their losing streak this evening, taking a point away from Elland Road after a raucous 2-2 draw.At a packed stadium, with the home fans roaring their team on, David Moyes's side had to find some composure and confidence that they have lacked for so long, and whilst it was by no means a perfect performance, it was enough. After the news of co-owner David Gold's passing earlier in the day, the players can take some credit for the heart they showed on the pitch.
The manager made changes again, abandoning the back five and given Thilo Kehrer a go at left back, meaning the German international has played (badly, I must add) in every defensive position this season.
There was a first Premier League start for Nayef Aguerd, whilst Pablo Fornals returned in place of Benrahma and Tomas Soucek was welcomed back into the middle of the park, Emerson dropping to the bench.
It was only a few moments into the game when Kehrer made his first error of an atrocious performance. His weak pass let the Leeds runners pounce on the ball in midfield and dart at goal, and the German's blushes were saved by a quite fantastic tackle in the box by Aguerd, sliding round and poking the ball away with his right foot as the forward looked to shoot.
He never recovered, and a match report on the errors of Kehrer and the manager for picking him there would fill as many paragraphs. What is Thilo Kehrer? Work that out and feel free to write in.
West Ham, of course, started their attacking play after that with their usual early energy. The possession without threat that West Ham can carry is immense, somehow making an attack feel without threat. They passed nicely, but looked like creating little. The best attack was Rodrigo's on Rice, the forward kicking at a bouncing ball and smashing into the West Ham's captain's head. He was fine, but remained bloodied throughout - albeit only in his ear. Rodrigo was perhaps lucky to escape with a yellow.
What this was, as a contest, was a game between two teams who are not very good right now. Leeds, manic Leeds, did as they do. To Marsch's credit, he has added more hard workers with composure on the ball, and whilst sometimes it looks something akin to a lunchtime kickabout on the school playground, there is a joy and unpredictability that that can bring. It also flies in the face of the rigid Hammers, a team desperately seeking solidity and shooting themselves in the foot to find it.
It was not an engrossing first half, even with the events that would soon unfold, but it was interesting to see what the changes had done for West Ham. Soucek, for example, was brought back into the midfield but was not brought back to sit deep any more. Now he was marauding forward, Paqueta and Rice often the two deeper players as Soucek went hunting the ball and defending on the front foot. It kept him away from build up and focused on the skills you want from him. Soucek is a good defender, a hard worker and a physical presence. Whilst his performance was not perfect, it was good and his selection was warranted by his display. His eight headers came along with three tackles, an interception, clearance and blocked shot.
What was fascinating, too, was how he dovetailed with Rice and Paqueta when possession was won. Suddenly the Brazilian was pushing up to get closer to the attack, whereas Soucek would go looking for space in the box or the gaps exposed behind by the forward runners. It is the kind of change many - including KUMB Podcast's Jack and Callum - have been shouting about for months. Delayed as the idea may have been in Moyes's head, this should cement it. This 4-3-2-1 system will win West Ham more points, it is the key to saving the season.
The other key is the central defenders getting fit. Aguerd, on his first start, was up to the pace instantly. With Zouma beside him, and a competent left back, the defence will look much better.
Ahh yes, the actual football. All the changes to a team in the world can't stop players out of form being exposed, but after conceding two from throw-ins against Brentford, you might have hoped they would at least improve on that.
So it was from a Leeds throw that the home side broke the deadlock. It took nothing special to break through the middle, a ball into Rodrigo flicked on to the Italian Gnonto. He gave a quick give-and-go to Summerville, whose disguised pass had the West Ham defenders going left and the ball going right through the middle, and the pass was only topped by a sensationally good finish by Gnonto, meeting it on the bounce and half-volleying from just inside the area and into the bottom corner with Fabianski rooted.
That little modicum of control that The Hammers thought they were building was crushed, and the next few minutes became a panicked blur. Leeds rushed at them, the scent of weakness in the air, Gnonto threatening once more.
But for all the talk of a West Ham crisis, the home side only started the day a point above the beleaguered Irons, and they didn't have the confidence or decisiveness to punish their opponents.
At 1-0, whoever you're playing, however badly you're playing, a goal can come to save your day. Vladimir Coufal came the closest, smashing a ball high into the air after Meslier had rushed out of his goal and cleared straight to him. As it fell from the heavens, it landed just on top of the roof of the net, getting a well-humoured curse of exasperation from the unlucky Hammer.
It was the best West Ham had produced until the half started to draw to a close. With time running out, a ball into the box found Bowen running from the right and into the centre. He got there first, toeing the ball away from the defender and then going to ground. Paqueta reacted quickly to flick it wide, Fornals missed the chance and then the appeals truly started.
The referee David Coote waved away the appeals, but he waved them away knowing that VAR would surely be interested. It is quite something that these referees get away with such bad decisions, only for VAR to save them. Whatever the technology chooses, it does not hide a bad referee.
The penalty was eventually, and rightly, given. With no Benrahma or Lanzini on the pitch, the West Ham penalty merry-go-round continued. This time, the Brazilian picked the ball up. He stood confidently, and when the whistle blew, it was a run, shimmy and a stutter, then one step and, Meslier not perturbed, Paqueta lifted it perfectly into the top corner for his first West Ham goal, and right on the stroke of half-time, too.
It was a huge relief to go in level, but it was only 40 seconds into the second half when The Hammers had the lead.
A sloppy pass from the Leeds midfield went straight to Scamacca 10 yards outside the box. The striker did excellent, turning quickly and firing into the bottom corner, his shot crashing in off the inside of the post. Here lie the benefits of a clinical striker, and even if that hasn't always been the case yet for the Italian, it is something he has that Antonio doesn't. If he can use this to encourage more involvement in the play, Scamacca will have proven his value.
West Ham found their control after this. For 10-20 minutes, Leeds were in the contest but second best as Paqueta got on the ball more and more in the Leeds half. Whilst Scamacca may have drifted in and out, the Brazilian seemed much more comfortable when he had Fornals stepping inside to receive, and Soucek bombing past him. It helped that Bowen was looking sharp again, driving around the outside and producing decent deliveries. A little luck could have seen the Hammers extend their lead. Had Fornals found his shooting boots, they would have won.
Instead the game became fractious, Jesse Marsch losing his grip on reality on the sideline and Leeds reviving the dirty side of them that never dies.
A stronger referee would have stopped it, but Coote was not that man. And when presented with a blatant red card, he again shunned the decision. VAR will not intervene if the referee is inclined not to give one, which is helped cowards like Coote hide behind the technology.
He was a coward, as was Summerville, who reacted to a firm but fair Coufal challenge by jumping into the next 50/50 with no eyes on the ball. He found his target, slamming into the right back and leaving him writhing on the floor, blood over his knee from the studs left on him. The decision was a yellow, an outrageous one given the challenge and the intent combined.
It lifted Leeds, and Elland Road, because of course it did. Suddenly, that bit of fight brought hope with it. Leeds were bouncing, and West Ham looked rattled. On came Cresswell, moving Kehrer to right back, and shifting all the problems from left to right. Now Kehrer was supported by Dawson, and the pair did not look settled.
Gnonto and Summerville poured forward at West Ham again and again, and when Harrison was thrown on, West Ham were starting to barely hold on.
In days gone by, this was the type of game Moyes's West Ham won. Whether it was the resilience at the back or a breakaway to extend the lead, this team would find a way. But those days seem a long way back now.
A throw-in, of course, saw West Ham's midfield part, and when Rice was beaten to the ball by Harrison, Rodrigo got space on the edge of the box to hammer past Fabianski and level. They had created next to nothing, but scored two goals, two very preventable goals. But then so had West Ham.
There were 20 minutes on the clock and Leeds gained renewed vigour. Benrahma and Downes were sent on, but did little to help the away side get a grip on the game.
As time faded away, it was the hosts who looked to win it. A deep corner with mere minutes remaining was flicked off the line by Antonio after a Cooper header down, and the defender blasted the rebound over when it was easier to score.
That looked to be the last chance, but a cross from the right found Rodrigo yards from goal. His header looked to be past Fabianski, but the goalkeeper reacted magnificently to claw it back and palm it away to safety.
It may have saved David Moyes's job, and a point like that, stopping the rot in a game they could barely afford to lose, will hopefully be the moment that kickstarts this season.
My condolences to the family and friends of David Gold. RIP.
David Moyes 6/10
I'll admit, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on Kehrer's selection. With others out of form, maybe the German's composure on the ball and step of speed (comparatively) could be useful. That was very wrong, but the manager didn't ever change it. However, the combination in midfield was good, Fornals worked and he at least used his bench. I think he'll be frustrated he didn't do more to save the three points, but after going a goal down, he will be proud of his side.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Some big saves in there at crucial moments are the reason West Ham got a point. Rodrigo will hate the sight of him.
Whether it's fitness or confidence, Coufal is back to look secure and important on that right. His work up and down the flank separates him from a team of full backs who seem limited to use in only one half.
As high as a three because he didn't actively attack his own team in the second half. Just a mess of positioning, decisions, passing, common sense.
Did not enjoy the running of Rodrigo, Summerville and Gnonto. Was done like a kipper for the first, reacting to a pass that hadn't happened, and was exploited too often with passes in behind.
His passing was not at the level he aspires to, but he was solid defensively and spared the blushes of Dawson and Kehrer. Considering he had two erratic performers beside him, it made it all the more impressive. A good start.
Too many bad shots on the edge of the box, not enough solidity in front of his own defence. It looked like Rice could have done much better on the equaliser.
That hard work and physical presence helped massively. It wasn't pretty, but it set a tone, something that he and Fornals brought that was missing from the Brentford game.
Probably West Ham's best player. The midfield is, for the first time this season, looking functional, and that is because the manager has finally understood he can get more from Paqueta starting deeper. The penalty was superb, and the little touches he does have purpose, which should be noted by one or two in this squad.
Fornals' typical industry and his linking passes improved West Ham's attacking play, and set the tone for how to fight through bad form. Hard work is the answer, and Fornals defends from the front with unmatched energy.
Did well to win the penalty and threatened down the right. Looked eager, dangerous and confident in his role. Good signs.
Pretty quiet, a few flicks aside, and then absolutely clinical when it fell to him.
(Replaced Coufal 67) Solid, doing little wrong, but doing little at all, really.
(Replacedcamacca 67') Didn't make the difference the manager needed, not really holding the ball at all and unable to stretch the defence.
(Replaced Fornals 79) Took silly risks in his own half and failed to produce with the ball.
(Replaced Paqueta 79) Got stuck in and involved in the fun in the middle. It was needed, it had looked like Leeds might bully their way to victory.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Thilo Kehrer, Craig Dawson, Nayef Aguerd, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lucas Paqueta, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Gianluca Scamacca.
Goals: Lucas Paqueta 45 Gianluca Scamacca 46 .
Booked: Nayef Aguerd 0 .
Sent off: None.
Leeds United: Meslier, Ayling, Koch, Cooper, Struijk, Aaronson (Klich 63), Roca (Greenwood 78), Adams, Summerville (Harrison 63), Gnonto (Gelhardt 90+1), Rodrigo.
Subs not used: Robles, Firpo, Llorente, Gyabi, Kristensen.
Goals: Gnonto (28), Rodrigo (70).
Booked: Rodrigo (8), Cooper (40), Summerville (59) .
Sent off: None.
Referee: David Coote.
Man of the Match: Lucas Paqueta.