Premier League
Sheffield United  2-2 West Ham United 

Sunday, 21st January 2024
by Chris Wilkerson

"We've got used to a level of officiating that is hardly worth challenging at the moment."

So were the words of David Moyes as West Ham ran into another official with trouble understanding the rules of football. In a game that should have ended 2-1, and then should have seen West Ham have a last-second penalty to make it 3-2, The Hammers were held by bottom of the table Sheffield United to a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane.

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With Paqueta, Alvarez, Aguerd and Kudus missing, West Ham fans were left hoping the return of Jarrod Bowen could add life to a team that looked short on quality. There was little on the bench, with four academy graduates who have never played a minute of Premier League football, joined by Mubama, Johnson, Fabianski, Cresswell and Ogbonna.

Danny Ings was slotted into a number 10 role as Bowen returned up front, with Fornals and Cornet taking the wide positions.

As in the reverse fixture, the Blades player to watch was McAtee, whose loan spell from Manchester City is getting him valuable exposure to Premier League football. His ability to drift by players, take the ball in tight situations and move it out with wonderful control has caused issues in both games now. It doesn't quite feel like Phil Foden is old enough himself yet to be compared to, but he moves like the Manchester City and England midfielder.

It was a scrappy game, the wind swirling around with little consistency, whipping between the stands and making aerial balls a tough task. Whether the weather directed the quality of the game or merely exacerbated it, this was certainly not one for the purists.

With that in mind, the home side had the better of the opening exchanges. West Ham fans even got to watch Ben Brereton Diaz, after so many windows linked with the Chile international. A pessimist would surely have expected what was to come.

West Ham were met with more of what they expected back at the London Stadium. Sheffield United are surely destined to drop, but teams will have anticipated hard work, physicality and determination. It was missing then, but the steel Wilder has forced into them now makes these games an uncomfortable proposition.

But quality was lacking, and the first real glimpse of a chance was created by rudimentary methods, Soucek flicking on a long Coufal and Ings reacting to the bouncing ball in the box. Foderingham rushed out at him, and Ings beat the goalkeeper to the ball, only to prod weakly wide.

Osula worked the backline as he ran, hassled and bounced into the centre backs in an effort to gain his side some ground and some space. Robinson was a weapon, bombing in long throws in the whipping wind as The Blades looked to bombard their way to goal.

This is where Soucek thrived. Today was not a day to enjoy watching him use the ball in possession, arguably one of his worse performances with the ball at his feet. But the Czech midfielder rose again and again to clear from his box, made some excellent defensive tackles, and played very well when he was forced into the actions of a centre back. It was just a shame he was awful beyond 20 yards of his own goal.

But whilst many will look back at the result as something to beat Moyes with, his side created and wasted openings and chances throughout the game.

Sometimes it was just bad decision making. Bowen turned down a ball to put Cornet through, choosing to go alone after Ings had won possession - something he did with exceptional regularity in that 10 role. He might be West Ham's top goalscorer this season, but Bowen gave himself a difficult job just to hit the target, whereas a simple pass should have been enough to give Cornet an easy chance.

The front four all looked like what they were: a random selection of attacking players. They had never played together before, not set up like this, and those little bits of instinctive play were never there.

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Bowen was ineffective, Fornals's passing was wildly inconsistent, and Ings and Cornet still had plenty of rust to shake off. Supported by a midfield pair that never works well together as a deeper two, there was very little rhythm in attack. Today was not going to be about pretty football for either side.

At least Sheffield United were unafraid of a shot, barely testing Areola with a few from range, and one floating nothing from Brereton Diaz in the box, but at least showing the intent. With how both sides were playing once they got into the final third, potshots were better than the inevitably failed passes.

The home side's best chance came from a corner. Trusty was left free around the penalty spot as everyone else bundled towards the goal. The curling cross was met firmly, but the defender could only find Areola's grateful grasp.

There had been little to suggest West Ham would soon take the lead, but every bit of encouragement for the hosts opened a little space for the away side to attack. They scored two minutes after Trusty's wasted chance.

The first real flowing passing move of the half gave West Ham a lead. Mavropanos played a simple pass into midfield, and under no pressure, Soucek turned and rolled it between two for Fornals. The Spaniard had just been moved to the right wing, but popped up in a central area to receive from midfield.

He quickly moved it onto Ings, and the striker fed it wide to Coufal and continued into the box. The right back took a touch, looked up and fizzed it into Ings's feet once more, just inside the box.

Ings beat one man and then hit the bobbling ball at goal. He saw his shot blocked, but it flew in front of Cornet, six yards out and to the left of goal, and he could hardly miss, fizzing a low volley into the bottom corner and into the back of the net for his first West Ham goal.

It was fitting that, even with a nice passing move, the first goal had come from a deflected shot and a bounce of luck. It felt like the game was always going to need it.

The goal knocked the wind out of the home side, and West Ham could have doubled their lead before the break. A lovely Fornals pass skipped Bowen down the left side of the box. His cutback to Soucek bobbled loose, and Ings pounced, but his shot was quickly blocked. A few years younger, Ings is there quicker and gets a shot away.

Then a corner dropped on the line of the six-yard box with Bowen free from his man. But the forward couldn't make clean connection, giving it a glancing blow as he swung a leg at it. It looked to be drifting to half-time at 1-0, but a big long ball at goal can always cause chaos.

A ball was lofted towards the box, but as the West Ham defence had gone back, it actually found a man on the edge. He headed it firmly into the box as Zouma stepped up, lofting over him to be headed at goal from close range.

Areola did well to save, although he could only palm it back into the centre of the box. It looked to be bouncing to Ward-Prowse to clear, but the midfielder waited for it on his heels. Ben Brereton Diaz didn't, bursting into the box, beating the West Ham player to the ball and then smashing home from close range to bring his new side level.

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It had all come from a sloppy touch from Cornet, dispossessed in midfield, forcing Ward-Prowse into a challenge that saw him booked. Cornet should have done better, Ward-Prowse should have been more aware in his own box, and you could argue Areola should be pushing that wide, although considering how close range the header was, it is a harsh assessment.

It meant the sides were level going into the break. Chris Wilder threw on the thuggish McBurnie. West Ham, with a bench full of players the manager didn't want to turn to, remained unchanged.

The habit of performing worse in the 15 minutes after half-time returned, with Sheffield United all over The Hammers as the game restarted. It wasn't quite like the game against Bristol City, but West Ham were being bullied again.

There was a half chance for McBurnie after a freekick found him at the far post, but his header was blocked, and the striker hammered the rebound over.

The big moment came a minute later. McAtee picked up the ball in his own half and split the West Ham defence with a straight pass. Brereton Diaz was through, taking it into the box, but the striker's finish was wayward, passing it comfortably wide with only Areola to beat.

There was little to show at the other end, the hard work of Ings all that could really give West Ham fans anything to cling onto.

Moyes moved his pieces around, moving Cornet up front, Bowen to the right wing and Fornals the left. All that happened was Hamer escaped a clear second yellow when tripping Bowen from behind as he ran at the Sheffield United defence.

With the team so flat, Ben Johnson was waiting to come on. Was the manager adding to the defence? Maybe finding a way to get Emerson forward? No, to the shock of all onlookers, Johnson replaced Cornet and went into the midfield three.

It did add some life. Ings soon made space at the edge of the box, turning quickly, ignoring the overlapping runners and then shooting, but it was easily saved. But his footwork paid off before the last 10 minutes came.

Fornals had the ball wide left. He darted a pass between players and into the feet of Ings in the box. With his back to goal, Ings turned, beat his man, and then was tripped from behind by Hamer. The midfielder again escaped a second card, but West Ham had a penalty.

Ward-Prowse stepped up, smacked it down the middle, and gave West Ham a second lead. The midfielder made sure to grab and then point to Ings, the whole team celebrating his role in the goal, and probably an appreciation of his whole performance.

Johnson was flying in midfield, carrying the ball at pace, getting stuck into challenges, and generally having a positive impact on the game. He looked a bit like he'd been thrown on in a Sunday league game and told to run around a lot, but it did lift the side.

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It wouldn't be a West Ham lead without wasted opportunities. Bowen should have done better after Johnson won the ball back in midfield. The academy graduate got it back after passing on, before Ings took it off his toes approaching the box and fed Bowen down the right side of the area.

He shifted it inside, looked up and tried to curl one to the far post, but hit high and wide.

Then the chaos started.

Down in the left corner, just outside the West Ham box, Emerson played a little pass around the corner with the outside of his boot. In flew Brewster, leaping off the ground with both feet and smashing his studs into the boot of Emerson.

The referee, in a sign of what was to come with his competence, produced a yellow card, only to be swiftly sent to the screen to check, and overturn his decision.

Coufal picked up a booking in the arguments that followed, which wouldn't be noteworthy, if he hadn't picked up another moments later. But West Ham had another chance to end it before then.

Ings won't know how he came away without a goal. Coufal, pushing up the right, cut a good pass back to Ings some 10 yards from goal. His first shot was blocked and bounced back to him, only for his second to be blocked in front of goal, too.

Then Coufal missed a tackle and got a second yellow. It was harsh, especially in the context of what Hamer had got away with. The freekick was pumped into the box, cleared, and then returned to the far post. Areola flew out in a panic, missing his punch and colliding with McBurnie.

Weak-willed, the referee pointed to the spot, and VAR failed to notice that the ball had gone far by McBurnie before the collision, that the striker made no attempt to get the ball, only jumping at the goalkeeper himself, and managed to swing an elbow into Areola's face and force him off injured and bloodied.

After all that, the striker got up to smack a low penalty past Fabianski. With 102-minutes on the clock, it was 2-2.

You would think that was all there was left, but the officials still had one last chance to reach new depths of incompetence. A cross from the right went towards Bowen. Marked by Ahmedhodzic, the centre back wasn't facing the ball as the cross came in, and then rugby tackled Bowen down. The decision? A freekick to Sheffield United for handball. It makes you wonder why anyone bothers.

Were West Ham that good? No. Should they have won? Yes. Referees made sure they didn't, but they would have been a non-entity if chances were taken.

Now, please, bring in some new players!

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Manager's Rating

David Moyes 8/10: It would have been a 9 had his team hung on, but there is minor criticism for throwing on Mubama to run around when all Sheffield United had left was balls into the box. Ogbonna on would have been a big help, a calming influence, and another defender to defend that freekick. Otherwise, considering his options, his solutions were excellent, Ings in the 10 a particular highlight.

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Player Ratings

Alphonse Areola
Whether it was a foul or not - it wasn't - it was another example of the goalkeeper flailing at a cross. His biggest weakness.

Vladimir Coufal
Unlucky though he may have been to go, but was also foolish and took the risk. But he did create good chances, so it was not an awful showing.

Emerson Palmieri
Too quiet considering the standard he was against. Needed to be darting forward and making runs with the ball, but seemed wedded to his defensive duties.

Konstantinos Mavropanos
Sloppy in possession, not particularly dominant in defence. Should have done better.

Kurt Zouma
Busier, but will feel annoyed by the first goal. Blocked shots and hurt himself for the cause.

Tomas Soucek
Awful away from his own box, but incredible defending it. Zouma and Mavropanos will need to thank him, because he did a lot of the aerial work they should be doing, made big challenges and defended better than anyone on the pitch. But his use of the ball was awful. It's not even just accuracy, sometimes he smashes a pass at someone five yards away.

James Ward-Prowse
A 5 without the penalty, he's just not a deep-lying midfielder. However, whilst he gets criticised for his passing being too safe, his midfield partner is also the opposite of a good pass, so it really limits his options. Least he keeps the ball and keeps it tidy.

Pablo Fornals
Wayward too often, but then played some vital link passes and create openings, started attacks. Getting better, but least he works hard to cover the gaps.

Maxwel Cornet
First PL start of the season, a goal, he will be happy. Still drifts out of the game and doesn't look fully fit, but made an impact.

Danny Ings
A really good performance if missing chances doesn't matter. But those chances missed cost the Hammers the win, in the end.

Jarrod Bowen
Fluffed his big chances, whether it was a wayward shot or missing the chance to pass Cornet through.


Ben Johnson
(Replaced Cornet 69) A wildcard midfield role was fun to watch. Was it good? Or was it just a bit of madness that surprised people?

Divin Mubama
(Replaced Ings 90+5) Ran around as a nuisance but was a poor choice.

Lukas Fabianski
(Reaplced Areola 90+11) Refuse to criticise him for not saving the one shot - a penalty - he faced in a stoppage-time cameo.

Aaron Cresswell
Did not play.

Angelo Ogbonna
Did not play.

Kaelen Casey
Did not play.

Oliver Scarles
Did not play.

Lewis Orford
Did not play.

Callum Marshall
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Alphonse Areola, Vladimir Coufal, Emerson Palmieri, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Kurt Zouma, Tomas Soucek, James Ward-Prowse, Pablo Fornals, Maxwel Cornet, Danny Ings, Jarrod Bowen.

Goals: Maxwel Cornet 28 James Ward-Prowse 79                .

Booked: James Ward-Prowse  Vladimir Coufal         .

Sent Off: Vladimir Coufal     .

Sheffield United : Foderingham, Bogle, Ahmedhodzic, Robinson, Trusty (Norrington-Davies 80), Souza (Norwood 88), McAtee, Hamer, Brooks (Brewster 80), Brereton Díaz (Archer 67), Osula (McBurnie 46).

Subs not used: Amissah, Osborn, Seriki, Buyabu.

Goals: Brereton Diaz (44), McBurnie pen (90+13).

Booked: Hamer, Brooks, Ahmedhodzic.

Sent off: None.

Referee: Michael Salisbury.

Attendance: 29,164.

Man of the Match: Danny Ings.