Leeds United manager Sam Allardyce will need a lot more than the five pound note he picked up from the floor and jovially offered to the fourth official to keep his team in the Premier League. While they weren’t poor value in this 3-1 loss to West Ham United, they lacked the final third quality and defensive resilience to see off the Europa Conference League finalists. Meanwhile, the home fans caught perhaps their last glimpse of a huge favourite, as Declan Rice scored their opener to a cacophonous reception.
A few weeks ago this match would have been a relegation dogfight, and the team with work still to do on that score showed plenty of fight in the early going. Luke Ayling found Jack Harrison with a cross, with the resulting shot drawing a good save from Lukasz Fabianski. The goalkeeper acted swiftly again to cut out another Ayling cross while Harrison had a searching ball cleared.
The lively Weston McKennie looked good early on, sitting Declan Rice down with some brilliant direct running. But it was an intervention with his hands that opened this game up. All legal, as his fine throw-in was volleyed home with venom by Rodrigo. Leeds boss Sam Allardyce bristles at the insinuation he is a route one coach but this was that approach at its effective best.
The Hammers sensed the tie slipping away and looked far better after conceding. Rice had two shots from outside the box, one going over the bar and the other blocked by a brave Ayling. Danny Ings’ flicked header to Tomas Soucek saw the midfielder draw an outstanding point-blank save from Joel Robles.
A West Ham goal was starting to look like a formality and so it proved. Jarrod Bowen played a smart one-two with Pablo Fornals, whose dinked return to him was exquisite. Bowen then lifted a cross to the far post for Rice to half-volley into the net. The London Stadium faithful went wild, perhaps conscious that this could be their last time watching the modern legend. Rice is expected to depart West Ham this summer, making this possibly the last home game he will play for the club.
Declan Rice levels it up for West Ham ⚒️
West Ham started the second half with plenty of momentum. The in-form Lucas Paqueta fired a shot from distance that demanded a very good save from Robles. Soucek powered a Bowen corner towards the top corner, before Robles reacted brilliantly to tip it over.
They found their way through after these promising moments through Bowen. Ings just about timed an offside-baiting through-ball to perfection, before his fellow England forward tucked it into Robles’ net. There was an agonising VAR check that allowed Allardyce and his men to contemplate clemency. But there would be no such relief at the London Stadium.
West Ham ratified their procession when Paqueta silkily edged his way in on the right hand side. His pull-back was stuck home by Manuel Lanzini to complete Leeds' descent into misery. West Ham looked like what they are, a team buoyed by the momentum of reaching a European final. It has been a season to forget in the league for David Moyes’ men, but with survival secured and a shot at silverware to come, finally the Hammers looked relaxed.
You won’t see many relaxed faces among those affiliated with Leeds United. They are now looking for favours from those around them to help keep them in the top flight. Whether Leicester City and Everton will be in any way compliant remains to be seen. Even then, Leeds will have to beat Tottenham Hotspur on the final day of the season to take advantage. This could be a game punctuated by goodbyes. A club preparing to wave goodbye to the Premier League and another club bracing itself to wave goodbye to one of its finest recent players.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change