Marcelo Bielsa praises Leeds United 'desire to win' as they overcome adversity and VAR to beat West Ham

Marcelo Bielsa praised his Leeds United players after they somehow came up with one of their best displays of the season to overcome more injury adversity and VAR controversy to win at top four West Ham.

By Tony Harber
Monday, 17th January 2022, 9:13 am
Hat-trick hero Jack Harrison, whose first senior treble fired Leeds United to a huge 3-2 win at West Ham.
Hat-trick hero Jack Harrison, whose first senior treble fired Leeds United to a huge 3-2 win at West Ham.

Once again there were as many first teamers unavailable as there were playing with no Patrick Bamford, Kalvin Phillips, skipper Liam Cooper, Diego Llorente, Tyler Roberts and Joe Gelhardt plus others.

And to compound that the Whites lost left-back Junior Firpo and midfielder Adam Forshaw to injury in the first 23 minutes yet they came away from the London Stadium with a 3-2 victory courtesy of a Jack Harrison hat-trick.

They were unlucky not to score more with Mateusz Klich having a goal ruled out by yet another controversial VAR decision to go against the Whites and Raphinha - who was back to his brilliant best - hitting the crossbar with a fantastic free-kick.

Sign up to our daily Dewsbury Reporter Today newsletter

The win did take them nine points clear of the relegation zone, however, and looking upwards again in the Premier League table.

Suddenly after a second successive league win United are only three points behind Leicester City in tenth so it was little wonder that head coach Bielsa was able to heap praise on the players.

He said: "It is a triumph for the players because the effort they put in was moving.

"They produced a desire to win which was very, very big.

“I’m very happy for Jack, he is a very noble player who puts in a lot of effort.

"The three forwards complemented themselves in a very harmonious way. Raphinha improved James and Harrison with the types of balls he gave them.

"Harrison scored three goals so that exempts me from having to make a commentary (on him) and James opened up spaces constantly. It was a very big effort and was part of the service to obtain advantages offensively.

“It really was a match for the players, because with each of them you can find a reason why they stood out. There was a determination and implication in the search for the victory that was very visible.

“To have won two games in a row in the Premier League is a stimulus, but we now have to sustain the performances over time.”

Bielsa added: “It was a very even game, a beautiful game, a typical Premier League game.

“It was good the difference was in our favour, but the margin was very small."

Leeds did have defender Pascal Struijk back from injury to offset some of the absentees while Spanish international Rodrigo was on the bench, but Bamford was not considered match fit enough to take part and Dan James was again left to lead the line.

They made a bright start with some good passing football from the outset to create early danger that came to nothin when Harrison's shot in the box was blocked.

From their next chance the Whites were ahead as Raphinha's run and pull back set up Klich to shoot from the edge of the area. Although his effort was well saved by home keeper Lukasz Fabianski Leeds had plenty of men in the box and Forshaw pounced on the rebound to find Harrison who found the net with an instant strike.

It was almost two soon after as more enterprising play ended with James having a decent chance to get a shot in from just outside the area, but he could not keep the ball down as it flew narrowly over.

Leeds' rhythm was interrupted, however, as they lost their two players to injury with teenagers Lewis Bate and Leo Hjelde coming on to play in midfield at left-back respectively - both making their Premiership debuts.

West Ham took advantage to come into the game and gave warning of what was to come when Craig Dawson was left free from Aaron Cresswell’s corner only to head wide.

Another corner soon after did bring an equaliser as Jarrod Bowen lost marker Stuart Dallas to get free to head home another Cresswell delivery.

The response was great and swift from the Whites. Surprising too as they also netted from a corner with Luke Ayling getting his head to a Raphinha cross and Harrison ghosting in at the far post to bundle the ball over the line for his second.

In a much more thrilling game than the FA Cup tie on the same ground a week earlier West Ham came close again when England midfielder Declan Rice drove forward and rounded keeper Illan Meslier only to find the angle too tight as he then shot into the side netting.

Leeds could have scored again before the break, however, as Raphinha played James clean through, but the Welsh international could not beat Fabianski in a one-on-one with the keeper.

A better effort followed from James when he cut in from the left only to see his low curling shot go inches wide.

The Hammers upped their intensity at the start of the second half and after Rice sent a shot over they made it 2-2. Leeds lost the ball in midfield and it was swiftly moved on to Pablo Fornals, who cleverly created space to score.

Again the Whites response was good as they went straight back on the attack and regained the lead after more great work by Raphinha, whose perfect pass found Harrison in space and he beat Fabianki with a clever chip for his first-ever hat-trick.

Raphinha almost went from goal maker to goal taker soon after as his superb free-kick hit the woodwork with Fabianki well beaten. James got on the end of the rebound only to head over.

Although the Hammers saw more of the ball now they were regularly being caught on the break and from one such swift attack it looked like Klich had made it 4-2.

Raphinha again was the provider down the right flank and his superb pull back found Klich in space to shoot home. But as the ball entered the net it may have just touched Rodrigo on the goal-line. He was deemed offside and interfering with play although he was trying to get out of the way and on one replay he appeareed to be level and not offside any way.

After the previous week's big goal between the same teams when Bowen had run to the ball and not been considered to be interfering with play it was a bit rich that this week a goal was ruled out when the opposite was happening. It showed again how inconsistent the officiating has become in the Premier and that VAR has not taken away refereeing problems.

Ironically West Ham did have an effort ruled out for offside when Bowen put the ball in the net, but this was a more straight forward decision and the linesman's flag went up.

Leeds were forced into a bit of a rearguard effort in the closing stages as their hosts threw everything at them.

Meslier saved well to deny Andriy Yarmolenko and there were huge sighs of relief all round among Leeds fans when in the dying seconds of added time Bowen got free in the box after a quickly taken free-kick only to send the ball over when it looked easier to score.

They had deserved this piece of luck on this occasion and were deserving winners to put an end to their horror run in league games in London.

West Ham United 2

(Bowen 34, Fornals 52)

(Harrison 10, 37, 60)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Premier League

West Ham: Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Diop (Perkins 87), Cresswell; Rice, Lanzini; Bowen, Fornals (Yarmolenko 69), Vlasic (Masuaku 61) ; Antonio.

Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Koch, Struijk, Firpo (Hjelde 23); Forshaw (Bate 22, Rodrigo 65); Raphinha, Dallas, Klich, Harrison; James.

Referee: Mike Dean