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Friday, January 27, 2023

West Ham denied much-needed win by Rodrigo’s late equaliser in thriller at Leeds

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If David Moyes’s losing run is over, it will need more than one draw to ensure he does not lose his job. When Wilfried Gnonto put Leeds ahead, West Ham were headed for a sixth successive defeat and the relegation zone; their most successful manager since Harry Redknapp may have been destined for the sack. Yet when Rodrigo scored Leeds’ classy equaliser, Moyes was denied the victory that would have solidified his position, taken his side above their hosts and lent the impression a new year would bring a shift in fortunes.

Instead, West Ham have to console themselves with a first point since October and the sense a huge outlay may not have all been in vain. If Moyes’s signings put his job at risk, perhaps they have now bought him a little more time. Such respite as he got came from players who formed part of the case for the prosecution. Moyes had spent £160m in the summer; half of it went on the two scorers at Elland Road and, had they not been strangers to the scoresheet in recent months, the Scot may not have been in such a perilous position.

At £50m, Lucas Paqueta is the biggest buy in West Ham’s history; at £30m, Gianluca Scamacca also figures on the leaderboard. That the Brazilian’s goal was his first for the Hammers and the Italian’s his first in 11 games indicates how they were underachievers, but each produced a timely strike.

Moyes is entitled to feel himself luckless in one aspect of his recruitment drive. Nayef Aguerd’s World Cup performances for Morocco showed he is a high-class signing but injuries meant he waited until January for a maiden Premier League start. He marked it with a fine display: a perfectly-timed second-minute challenge on Rodrigo in his own box was a sign of his composure. Tellingly, Leeds had rather more joy against Craig Dawson than Aguerd.

The veteran was at fault when West Ham went behind, stepping out of defence and getting caught in no-man’s land as two of Leeds’ next generation combined wonderfully. They had turned to Wilfried Gnonto in the summer transfer market after missing out on Cody Gakpo and Charles de Ketelaere and his first Leeds goal was an endorsement of their ability to identify talent.

It was taken beautifully, an explosive hit that flew past Lukasz Fabianski. It came from a combination of youngsters, the 19-year-old Gnonto veering infield and exchanging passes with the 21-year-old Crysencio Summerville before letting fly. It was reward for Jesse Marsch’s faith in youth, with each preferred to Jack Harrison, but the Englishman was introduced when Summerville was booked and at risk of collecting a second caution. Harrison made an early impact, finding Rodrigo and the previously wasteful Spaniard drilled in his tenth league goal of an unexpectedly productive season.

There would have been an eleventh, too, had Fabianski not tipped Rodrigo’s rising shot over or clawed away his 96th-minute header. Leeds finished strongly, offering proof of both energy and spirit. In an evening of frantic, flawed entertainment, Liam Cooper blazed over when he had the chance to score a winner. It was not the first time West Ham were indebted to their hosts for their generosity.

Declan Rice on the ball in midfield for West Ham

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Declan Rice on the ball in midfield for West Ham

(Getty Images)

Needless errors by Pascal Struijk and Brenden Aaronson led to their goals. After West Ham had almost equalised in improbable fashion, with Vladimir Coufal’s 50-yard shot landing on the roof of the net, Struijk tripped Jarrod Bowen in the penalty box.

It initially went unnoticed by referee David Coote, who watched as Pablo Fornals shot wastefully wide but, sent to review it on the pitchside monitor, he eventually pointed to the spot. West Ham have a recent record of missing penalties but Paqueta was nerveless, a stuttering run-up followed by a languidly precise finish. It brought a more confident display by the playmaker, who unveiled some of his flicks and tricks.

And, if he was bought to supply Scamacca, the summer signing who set up the Italian’s goal was Leeds’ Aaronsen. His wretched pass was presumably intended for Marc Roca, but so wayward that it was hard to tell, and the striker intercepted and curled a 20-yard shot in off the far post. At which stage, Moyes could glimpse the relative safety of mid-table. Instead, West Ham ended up below the dotted line.

For now, they have greater concerns after the death of joint chairman David Gold. A bouquet of flowers occupied the seat reserved for a man who supported West Ham for almost all of his 86 years. His joint chairman, and long-time business partner, David Sullivan was present. Ultimately, Moyes’s future may rest in his hands. For now, however, he may be spared a decision.

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