Proud and jubilant, the London Stadium welcomed back their European heroes for the first time since they cemented their place in the final of the UEFA Europa Conference League. For the first time in a very difficult season, the atmosphere was relaxed – knowing the threat of relegation was no longer looming over them.
For their competitors, however, it was a complete contrast. Sam Allardyce was appointed to steer Leeds away from danger, but after failing to record a win in his first two games, the situation this season has never been more desperate for the Yorkshire side.
WHU: Fabianski; Emerson, Ogbonna, Zouma, Coufal; Rice, Soucek; Fornals, Paqueta, Bowen; Ings
LEE: Robles; Struijk, Wober, Kristensen, Ayling; Forshaw, Koch, McKennie; Harrison, Bamford, Rodrigo
The difference in circumstances was evident in the opening periods of the game. Leeds came out of the blocks quickly and were visibly hungry to pounce on any opportunities that came their way, while West Ham were slow and lacklustre. This became clear less than ten minutes in, when the away side came close to taking the lead as a looping cross from Luke Ayling down the right hand side found Jack Harrison in the middle of the area, but his volley at goal was comfortably saved by Fabianski.
But Leeds didn’t have to wait much longer to be rewarded for their bright start, as they scored a goal which came straight out of the Sam Allardyce playbook. A long throw from Weston McKennie was propelled into the box, finding Rodrigo who connected with a magnificent volley. His timing was perfect, the power was too much for Fabianksi to handle, and Leeds took the lead.
Conceding the opener appeared to wake up West Ham, as the hosts dominated for the remainder of the half. A neat one-two between Jarrod Bowen and Pablo Fornals placed the Englishmen in the Leeds penalty area, where he lifted a cross to the back post. He found Declan Rice who, in potentially his last home game for the Irons, levelled the game at 1-1.
The momentum was heavily in the host’s favour from this point on, but late saves from Joel Robles made sure the game remained level until the break.
After Patrick Bamford came off injured in the first half, Leeds really struggled to trouble the West Ham defence. Zouma and Ogbonna were never really tested, and it allowed the home side to take full control of the game.
Joel Robles delayed the inevitable, producing a number of fantastic saves throughout the second half – but his good work was for nothing, as West Ham completed their comeback in the 72nd minute. Danny Ings picked up the ball on the edge of the area and played a clever reverse ball to Jarrod Bowen. He faced Robles one-on-one, and delicately placed the ball past the oncoming goalkeeper.
Despite a win being critical in Leeds’ bid to stay in the Premier League, they were tame and ineffective when trying to break down West Ham’s defence. Their performance was way below par, and any hope that remained was destroyed in added time. Lucas Paqueta displayed some excellent footwork while running down the byline, and he cut it back to Manuel Lanzini who scored into an open goal.
West Ham’s high was prolonged for another week, but Leeds now must beat Tottenham on the final day to stand any chance of survival. It will be a week filled with nerves, but if the players want to keep their club in the Premier League, they will have to produce a much better performance than they did today.