Leeds United's relegation worries increase after missed opportunity at West Ham

The task was clear. Win at West Ham then beat Tottenham at home in the final game and Leeds United would have pulled off another great escape act.
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It even started well with Rodrigo volleying the Whites into the early lead they needed. But in an all together too familiar collapse what followed showed why the club are surely heading back into the Championship – and why they will be far from favourites to come straight back up.

The fight on show a week earlier against Newcastle was conspicuous by its absence at the London Stadium with the eventual 3-1 defeat making it eight defeats from eight matches in the capital this season.

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While most of their relegation rivals have been showing tremendous battling qualities in their desperation to avoid the drop the desperation in the Leeds team has made them tentative, timid and seemingly afraid.

Rodrigo put Leeds United ahead, but picked up an injury at West Ham that makes him doubtful for the last game of the season.Rodrigo put Leeds United ahead, but picked up an injury at West Ham that makes him doubtful for the last game of the season.
Rodrigo put Leeds United ahead, but picked up an injury at West Ham that makes him doubtful for the last game of the season.

Too often the players have frozen in the relegation spotlight in recent weeks and the failure to beat a West Ham team there for the taking looks like one failure too many and has now left them needing a little football miracle to stop up.

Now they must beat Tottenham – highly unlikely it seems in itself for a team that has gone eight matches without a win. And then they must hope that Everton lose at home to a Bournemouth side with little to play for next week and that Leicester do not pick up four points from their last two matches.

If Everton were to draw their game Leeds would then need to beat Spurs by three goals to finish above the Toffees on goal difference – again highly unlikely as they have not achieved this kind of scoreline all season.

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At least they still have something, however slim, to play for in their final match, but fans cannot travel to Elland Road with any confidence, even more so after their only two proven strikers, Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo, both picked up injuries against the Hammers.

"Both of them are struggling,” explained head coach Sam Allardyce, whose prospects of that well publicised multi million pound bonus for keeping Leeds up look slim now.

"Rodrigo with plantar fasciitis and Bamford with a hamstring.

"If both miss, based on what we do up front after that, it's a big ask. That is fact. I can't hide the fact, who am I going to play up front with those two missing? We might have to change the system.

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"The only challenge is to try and beat Tottenham and deliver a performance, without the mistakes we made against Newcastle.

Certainly from a defensive point of view, we have to work to keep Harry Kane and Son quiet.”

Allardyce was unhappy with a number of aspects of his team's display.

He said: "We didn't show enough quality.

"Second half it was about hanging in there as a team and making your way forward when you can, maybe a counter attack or set-piece and score a goal you maybe don't deserve. We didn't do that.

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“Lack of composure to pick the final pass out. Plenty of players arriving, plenty of opportunities in those areas.

"And we've struggled to keep a clean sheet, it was going to be hard pushed the way our record is.

"That's why I wanted more than one goal. We didn't get that. We stayed in the game for a period of time. The third goal was just us going hell for leather to get back into it."

Allardyce does not have any regrets in taking the job at Elland Road.

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He added: “It’s a challenge of trying to do your best for the club, particularly this club when it’s worked so hard to get back in the Premier League.

"I can only try my best and give the players the right sort of instructions to show them how to win a game of football.

“Unfortunately that hasn’t worked yet. We have to try and get that to work on Sunday. It was always going to be a difficult task. Lots of people said how mad I am taking it, but I’m not mad. I just love football and Leeds United was too big a job to turn down for me.”

Allardyce is the third Leeds manager to find out the hard way this season that this team cannot collectively defend and although he set the team up with another defensive shield with a centre-back in midfield and a central defender at left-back it made no difference.

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Despite looking more solid since Big Sam's arrival the team has found a way to concede seven goals in three matches and whatever division they are playing in next year a massive overhaul in defenders is needed.

Attacking wise it was scraps to feed off again, but the Whites could have been three up in the first 20 minutes.

Bamford looked lively early on and his cross found Rodrigo in the box, but instead of shooting with his weaker right foot the Spanish striker tried to control the ball with his left and succeeded only in giving the ball straight to home keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Then Jack Harrison's volley from 12 yards out was saved low down by Fabianski.

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But it was 1-0 when Weston McKennie's long throw evaded jumpers in the box and fell nicely for Rodrigo to smack a volley into the net.

It should have been the signal for the team to control the game, but they produced precious little for the rest of the first half apart from injury-time efforts by Robin Koch whose header from a corner was comfortably saved and Willy Gnonto and Harrison who both miscued shots from the edge of the box.

By then West Ham had equalised after Jarrod Bowen was allowed to get in behind the Whites defence and his cross was volleyed home by Declan Rice.

The hosts could have scored again as Pablo Fornals shot wide following a quick break and Paqueta volleyed wide.

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The second half saw Paqueta's shot from range tipped away by Joel Robles who also saved well from Tomas Soucek's header.

The only reply was a Harrison cross headed over by McKennie when Gnonto was better placed behind him.

The Leeds defence went missing again in the 72nd minute when Bowen got in behind them once more and this time flicked the ball into the net via Robles' hand.

It was typical Leeds luck in London that the ball would probably have gone wide but for the keeper's unfortunate touch and Bowen was given the benefit of the doubt on an offside call. One replay showed him off, another had him level and the goal stood.

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Leeds did have a go to hit back, but their confidence had drained, this being summed up when Crysencio Summerville raced through, but saw his shot blocked. The ball fell to Brenden Aaronson, but his dreadful wild swing was something you would expect to see on a Sunday football pitch on a muddy day.

The body language given off by a number of players was equally dreadful and the day to forget got somehow worse in injury-time when they seemed to forget to defend a home corner with only two defenders in the box, allowing Manuel Lanzini a tap in to make it 3-1.

Replays again appeared to show an offside in the build-up, but it surprised no-one that the goal was allowed to stand and the misery was complete.

West Ham United 3

(Rice 32, Bowen 72, Lanzini 90+4)

Leeds United 1

(Rodrigo 17)

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Premier League

West Ham: Fabianski; Coufal, Zouma (Kehrer 45), Ogbonna, Emerson; Rice, Soucek; Bowen (Lanzini 84), Paqueta, Fornals (Johnson 90); Ings (Mubama 90).

Leeds: Robles; Ayling, Kristensen, Wober, Struijk (Greenwood 84); Forshaw (Aaronson 62), Koch, McKennie (Roca 84); Harrison (Summerville 62), Bamford (Gnonto 34), Rodrigo.

Referee: Peter Bankes