Leeds question 'shambolic' VAR call as West Ham reach FA Cup 4th round - ratings and analysis
The FA Cup must hope for better Sundays, a match so obvious that broadcasters can’t go wrong in finding suitable hosts. It is not that West Ham and Leeds failed to deliver particularly, only that jeopardy was never likely in a contest so heavily weighted in the favour of one above another.
If the Premier League table were not already a fair indicator of possibilities Marcelo Bielsa tilted the scales still more in West Ham’s favour by loading his team with babes, the Leeds spine a chain of teenagers making their first starts for the club. Lewis Bate, Sam Greenwood and Leo Hjelde let none down but were not an improvement on Stuart Dallas or Raphinha, who were furloughed to the bench.
So much for the magic of the Cup. Bielsa was making his fourth selection in the competition and is still waiting for a win. No such concessions to the occasion from David Moyes, who sent out the big dogs in search of Cup glory and was rewarded with a routine win that should have been far more emphatic. Coming with pretty much the last kick of the match the second goal at least set off a climactic letting off of steam among home fans who couldn’t quite believe how long they had to wait for the delivery of the rubber stamp.
A symbol of the discomfort that Leeds would experience occurred as the teams made their way onto the pitch. Bielsa, taken by surprise by the bubble machine, was seen shuffling awkwardly away from the blizzard. The cerebral Argentine was soon on his haunches as if the lower setting allows him to connect better with the hurly burly of the action. A coffee in a paper cup was delivered by an assistant. No biscuit, though. That is the discipline for which he is famous.
Twenty or so strides to his right stood the more conventional figure of Moyes, who has none of the exotica associated with the Argentine. The Glaswegian stands mostly arms crossed or with hands in pockets, neither silhouette conferring sophistication yet it was his team stroking the ball about to quasi-Latin, slow-slow-quick rhythms.
Despite clearing a shot off the line in the tenth minute Leeds passed a largely pleasant opening half an hour with the kids doing more than alright. Bate was prominent with his quick turns and urgent darts, Greenwood muscled his way about the paddock and Hjelde was a solid presence at the back.
And then the percentages told. Michail Antonio pulled wide, played a neat ball into Nikola Vlasic, who turned and ran at Hjelde. The Norwegian blocked and pulled, the ball spilled towards goal. Illan Meslier failed to gather and when it popped up like a fish on deck, Manuel Lanzini put his foot through it to fill the net. VAR scrutinised the melee without taking action.
The game at last had a goal that reflected the superiority of the home team. What it didn’t have yet was justification for the elevation of this match to televised status. Perhaps that would come with the introduction by Leeds of Raphinha for Greenwood, who tried hard but could not stop his young heart racing sufficiently to make the right decisions.
Two incursions by Antonio in the opening six minutes of the restart, the second of those a trademark bustling dribble, might have laid the game to rest. After shredding the reputation of Diego Llorente, Antonio muscled the ball into the path of Jarrod Bowen, who really should have put the ball beyond Meslier instead of blasting it at his torso.
Antonio, Bowen, Lanzini and Vlasic were becoming increasing uncontainable as they pulled the overworked Leeds rearguard out of shape. Set up by Vlasic, Declan Rice was next to step within range. The action seemed to freeze as Vlasic squared the ball to the West Ham favourite on the edge of the box. The collective intake of breath was so apparent it echoed about the stands like a cheer. It said: “And Rice must score.”
Rice went at the ball like a hammer at a nail, the force imparted obliterating all control. Up in the stands, Sir Trevor Brooking shook his head ruefully, the synapses flooding with the memories of balls that sat up just like that in his day and found the back of the net.
He would, however, have approved of the rapier break that polished the scoreline. Again Antonio was too much for the Leeds defence, running Adam Forshaw to a standstill before squaring the ball for the rapidly advancing Bowen. No need for a touch this time. Bowen sought the corner with impressive calm, his left-foot shot escaping Meslier’s dive and triggering the familiar knee slide in front of the home support.
Just for good measure, the teams return a week hence to do it all again in the Premier League, mercifully not before live cameras.
Leeds’ players were furious that Lanzini’s goal was allowed to stand, including captain Liam Cooper who is currently recuperating from a hamstring injury.
Cooper tweeted: “Shambles” in response to the decision.
“I feel like Jarrod Bowen is in an offside position,” former Leeds striker Jermaine Beckford said on ITV at half-time.
“He reaches for the ball and goes for it. Meslier gets a touch on it and the ball falls to Lanzini, lovely finish. But when it went to VAR, I thought they were going to pull it back. In my opinion, they definitely should have done.”
Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey also felt that the officials got the decision wrong.
He tweeted: “Being in an offside position is not an offence in itself, once Bowen makes that initial movement towards the ball in doing so challenging an opponent coming from an offside position, he then becomes involved in active play and therefore should be given offside.”