West Ham ease past youthful Leeds into fourth round

West Ham 2 Leeds Utd 0

After sailing a little too close to the wind during their 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace, West Ham happily accepted an afternoon free of drama. Manuel Lanzini gave them the lead at the end of a drab first half and David Moyes’s side cruised from there, comfortably keeping Leeds United at arm’s length and sealing their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a professional and mature display.

For Moyes, satisfaction came from seeing his side keep a first clean sheet since December 12th. Leeds kept plugging away in the second half, Jack Harrison and Dan James both spurning chances to force extra time, but West Ham rarely looked uneasy. Declan Rice was typically outstanding in central midfield, Lanzini coolly scored his third goal in his last two games and Michail Antonio was a barnstorming presence in attack, racing clear during stoppage time to set up Jarrod Bowen’s clincher.

The absence of eight regulars made Leeds vulnerable. West Ham picked their strongest available side and were soon pressing for an opening. There were dangerous efforts from Antonio and Bowen, who saw a shot hacked off the line by Luke Ayling during the early stages, and there was never any prospect of Leeds picking holes in West Ham’s back four during the opening period.

With Tyler Roberts, Patrick Bamford, Joe Gelhardt and Rodrigo missing in attack, Marcelo Bielsa had named Raphinha on the bench and handed a first start to the teenage forward, Sam Greenwood. There was also a debut in midfield for Lewis Bate, a 19-year-old signed from Chelsea last summer, and there was little to worry the hosts before the interval.

For all their neat approach play, there was little bite from Leeds. Shackled by Issa Diop and Craig Dawson, Greenwood was restricted to a harmless blast from long range before being replaced. Bate also tried his luck, curling a tame effort straight at Alphonse Areola from the edge of the area, but otherwise there was little sign of any zest from Leeds and it was not a surprise when West Ham took the lead in the 34th minute.

The frustration for Bielsa is that it was a poor goal to concede. West Ham had rather spluttered as an attacking force at first, Lanzini’s passing radar slightly off, Antonio forced to play with his back to goal too much. But there was also a sense that everything would come together in the final third sooner rather than later.

So it proved when Antonio finally seized upon a chance to turn and run down the left flank after another timid Leeds attack had broken down. Claret and blue shirts stormed forward in support and Antonio had time to check back inside before jabbing a pass towards Nikola Vlasic, who shielded the ball from Leo Hjelde before using his upper body strength to roll away from the Leeds centre-back and advance on Illan Meslier’s goal.

It was naive defending from Hjelde, who was making his debut alongside Diego Llorente. The 18-year-old was rolled too easily by Vlasic, who was keen to make an impression with Saïd Benrahma away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and he went close to conceding a penalty as he tried to slow the Croatian’s momentum. As it was, Hjelde’s challenge on Vlasic merely led to a mess, Bowen and Meslier both going for the loose ball before Junior Firpo’s desperate lunge gave Lanzini the opportunity to sweep into the empty net.

The goal survived a lengthy VAR check for offside against Bowen and West Ham should have extended their lead before the break. Antonio blasted wide from Ben Johnson’s low cross and Ryan Fredericks finished diffidently after a lovely one-two with Bowen, who was a thorn in Firpo’s side.

Aware that something had to change, Bielsa replaced Bate and Greenwood with Raphinha and Stuart Dallas at half-time. Yet West Ham were still in charge. Antonio remained a menace, rumbling away from Llorente and sending Bowen through to test Meslier, and it felt like there were possibilities every time Vlasic picked up possession on the left.

Leeds, who had moved James up front, struggled to create anything. Adam Forshaw came on for Ayling after an hour, but Bielsa’s problems increased when Firpo went down injured and had to make way for Cody Drameh.

With time running out, Bielsa’s mood hardly improved when Harrison wasted a chance to equalise with 15 minutes left, somehow turning Mateusz Klich’s cross wide from close range. Leeds were toothless. James missed another inviting opening and the contest was over when Antonio, charging clear on the break, released Bowen to slide a cool finish past Meslier. – Guardian

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