Leeds United: ‘Brave’ Whites left with nothing after West Ham United deliver late blow
The weight of Leeds United’s performance, on a day when they exhibited vibrant aspects of their old selves from their beguiling return to the Premier League last season and cast aside their strained start to 2021-22 for fair spells, surely merited something.
Instead, it got nothing and the worry beads are out after Leeds equalled their worst-ever opening to a league season, previously set in 1951-52 and 1935-36.
After the game, West Ham manager David Moyes talked up his opponents in glowing fashion. A team who he would love to watch as a supporter and one who are ‘brave’ and ‘unique’ in terms of their playing style.
It may be easier to be magnanimous when your side has just grabbed a late winner, but the Scot, a football man to the core, is not the sort to be disingenuous.
Unfortunately, for all of Leeds’s good work, particularly for the first hour and a bit, games at this level often come down to small pockets of play.
There were three minutes between Mateusz Klich passing up a huge moment to put Leeds 2-0 up and potentially make the game safe and West Ham levelling in fortuitous fashion midway through the second half.
Former Hull City raider Jarrod Bowen again showed his liking for Elland Road when he cut inside on the right and saw his shot divert off debutant Charlie Cresswell and then take a wicked deflection off Junior Firpo to finally beat the defences of Illan Meslier.
Two minutes later, Raphinha, who produced another dazzling show before the dashboard light came on and he ran out of petrol and started to feel the effects of the knock he picked up recently at Newcastle, exited the fray and West Ham scented Leeds blood.
They may have had several earlier opportunities – with Meslier in magnificent order in the Leeds goal to deny Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma. Pablo Fornals and Tomas Soucek – yet you sensed this was now truly Hammer time.
Perseverance duly paid off and it just so happened that a player who home fans had bayed to be given a red card in Antonio inflicted the mortal wound.
It never rains, but pours when you are having a tough time at the start of an unforgiving season.
The burly striker had been reprimanded by seething home fans when he caught Meslier with a flailing arm on 54 minutes which ensured that Soucek’s ‘goal’ was rightly disallowed by VAR.
Antonio’s next major involvement was more brutal after being left in an ocean of space at the death following a perceptive pass from Declan Rice, who won his own personal battle on the day with England team-mate Kalvin Phillips, inhibited by contrast.
Antonio deceived Jamie Shackleton and coolly beat Meslier and much of Elland Road shivered.
After just eight wins on their previous 52 trips to this venue, West Ham have now won on their last two visits, both by the same scoreline and with late goals.
The upshot for Leeds is that they uncomfortably reside in the bottom three and while league tables count for nothing this early, it does not make for nice viewing at the breakfast table either.
Denied the precious oxygen of victory so far in the league this season, Leeds now face a potentially stifling occasion against Watford this coming Saturday in arguably their biggest game since returning to the big time.
As for the hope? Mercifully, you did not have to look too far.
Raphinha was Raphinha. A player of heart, drive and pure talent. One who would not look out of place among the division’s big-hitters with his splendid and deadly 19th-minute opener attesting to his qualities after being tidily set up by Rodrigo and Klich, who seized upon Soucek’s error.
In the first half especially, Rodrigo also displayed the silk which convinced Leeds to fork out a fair fee to sign him.
His movement was bewitching and some of his combination work with Raphinha – who also hit the post – was a treat to behold.
Unfortunately, it did not last over the piece. Leeds were more in retreat on the restart as they sought to hold onto their slender lead and victory they so craved.
The display of league debutant Cresswell was the main substantive, right from the opening salvos when he looked up for the battle with Antonio.
Regrettably, the West Ham man would have the final word, yet this was another step forward for the strapping centre-half with a big future.
Just 19 and starting out, Cresswell played like someone much older in front of a full Elland Road.
He also spoke like a veteran in reflecting on his club’s current predicament.
Cresswell said: “In the moment, I am gutted we lost, but I will have to watch it back to see how I did individually.
“I thought I adapted quite well. He (Bielsa) just wanted me to go out there and do my thing.
“Both teams battled hard. It was tough to call, but we need to stick together and hopefully next time we can get the win.
“Sometimes results happen that shouldn’t happen, but that’s football. We need to work hard and get that win soon; very soon.”
Very soon being the operative words.