Even with their new Premier League-standard floodlights on, the Whites failed to dazzle for the television cameras. Mateusz Klich needed two attempts to score a penalty (in fairness, he did), Illan Meslier flapped weakly when something stronger was needed to keep out a Tomas Soucek header (he made a tremendous save later), and Marcelo Bielsa replaced the left-hand side of his team at half-time.
West Ham United goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski made plenty of saves, but not enough difficult ones.
David Moyes may not have trusted the side Bielsa named on Wednesday – the Argentinian does not really do bluffing – but had the Hammers well set up to not only deal with them but cause problems.
Former Hull City winger Jarrod Bowen regularly got in behind Ezgjan Alioski in the first half and rather than even up the shape, his colleague between the lines, Said Benrahma, was a menace at No 10. Ahead of them, Sebastien Haller played like the striker West Ham thought they had paid big money for, rather than simply Michail Antonio’s stand-in.
The Hammers are an imposing side physically and set-pieces are a notable Leeds weakness as Bielsa admitted in his open-book pre-match press conference. West Ham scored from two to win 2-1.
Leeds were quick out of the blocks thanks to Liam Cooper’s sharpness of mind and video assistant referee Jarred Gillett.
Cooper nipped in front of Haller as the Hammers tried to play a ball into him and beautifully picked out Patrick Bamford, who was brought down by Fabianski.
At first it seemed the Pole had redeemed himself, diving right to keep out Klich’s weak penalty but play was brought back when the VAR thought he was off his line. Fabianski and Declan Rice argued the evidence showed the latter but of course their protests counted for nothing.
Klich stepped up again and hit the ball firmer, to the other side, beyond his compatriot. Even with all the palaver, there were only six minutes gone.
Going behind so early seemed to encourage the away side to be positive, with the men behind Haller causing problems.
Bowen beat Cooper with ease, but the captain recovered well to cut out the cross. Twice Benrahma beat his man only to spoil it with a poor pass. He had a shot headed away by centre-back Luke Ayling and another which rippled the side netting. Haller had two efforts at goal – one with the head, one the foot – which took a touch off defenders and lost their sting.
When the unusually disappointing Jack Harrison conceded a corner midway through the first half, Tomas Soucek climbed to Bowen’s flag kick to score his third header for the Hammers. Only Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with four, have done better since he joined the Premier League in February.
That said, Meslier will be disappointed at his weak response to the goalbound header.
With other fans not allowed in, Orta’s exasperation was audible and growing louder. Leeds finished the first half stronger – Bamford heading a Harrison cross and Ayling curling a shot at Fabianski either side of a bizarre incident when Angelo Ogbonna flailed his arm at a Rodrigo cross – but the Londoners reset at the restart. Half-time substitute Jamie Shackleton’s surge from right-back and Bamford’s spin and shot would be a false dawn. Leeds’s top-scorer would not last the course.
Benrahma’s influence continued to be strong, having a couple of shots wide and another which made no sense over. His free-kick was in a prime crossing position and Ogbonna’s header past Meslier when Aaron Cresswell delivered from a similar position after 81 minutes would decide the match.
You could not say it was not coming. Pablo Fornals slipped over in putting an excellent chance just wide, and Meslier made a terrific save from Pablo Balbuena, who headed against the post in the 89th minute. That the Leeds goalkeeper also had to save a Haller overhead kick showed his confidence, though the substitutions of Benrahma and Bowen by that stage showed Moyes was feeling a bit more cautious.
Still Leeds had a great chance to equalise as the clock ticked past 90, from Rodrigo’s header but like so much from his side, it was straight at the goalkeeper.
It was an off night for the Whites. They happen, but Leeds will be hoping they do not happen very often.
Leeds United: Meslier; Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioski (Shackleton 46); Phillips; Raphinha, Klich, Rodrigo, Harrison (Costa 46); Bamford (Roberts 74). Unused substitutes: Poveda, Casilla, Hernandez, Struijk.
West Ham United: Fabianski; Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Coufal, Soucek, Rice, Fornals (Snodgrass 90); Bowen (Johnson 85), Benrahma (Noble 83); Haller. Unused substitutes: Lanzini, Dawson, Fredericks, Randolph.
Referee: M Oliver (Ashington).
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