Leeds barely whimper as Allardyce waits too long to ‘flip switch’ against West Ham
Premier League survival is no longer in their hands, and it sounds harsh, but Leeds deserve to be relegated after that. They offered nothing against a team playing for nothing. It was pathetic.
West Ham were there for the taking. If it wasn’t clear before kick-off – with the Hammers safe and playing on the back of their European semi-final triumph on Thursday – Kurt Zouma’s attempt (if you can call it that) to chase after Patrick Bamford as the Leeds forward galumphed towards Lukasz Fabianski’s goal will have left few in doubt that this was as soft a fixture as Sam Allardyce and his team could have hoped for in their penultimate game.
It was no surprise when Rodrigo put Leeds ahead with a fine volley from Weston McKennie’s long throw, with West Ham half asleep and not obviously bothered enough to fully wake up.
But there is one West Ham player who always cares, who can’t turn the competitive tap off, and who had an added incentive against Leeds in what will almost certanly be his last home game for the club. Declan Rice put on a show, and as has frequently been the case for at least the last three seasons, dragged his teammates closer to his level as the game wore on.
He looked almost bashful as he celebrated West Ham’s equaliser – volleying past Joel Robles after some fine link up between Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen – perhaps aware of the gaping hole he is soon to leave in the Hammers’ midfield.
There was a time when Rice’s £100m+ valuation was questioned. A French pal took the p*ss earlier this season as Rice’s opposite number Aurelien Tchouameni battered one in out of nothing against England in the World Cup, claiming the homegrown tax in the Premier League meant West Ham were asking for twice what Rice was actually worth. But his performances since have dispelled doubts over his quality, and that same French pal’s silence when asked recently whether Rice would be playing for Real Madrid while Tchouameni isn’t is deafening.
Is there a team in world football Rice wouldn’t get into? Manchester City are the acid test, but you could absolutely see Pep Guardiola moulding Rice into the role Ilkay Gundogan is about to vacate, in what appears to be the Spaniard’s quest to make his team ever more physically dominant. There will be few eyelids batted at a £100m price tag, no matter where he goes.
He won’t have had many more comfortable afternoons in a West Ham shirt. It was quite the mismatch against Robin Koch, Adam Forshaw and McKennie. Even without Tomas Soucek alongside him, Rice probably wold have been just fine coping with all three. Leeds in general didn’t have much about them. It wouldn’t have been obvious to casual viewer that this was a team fighting for their Premier League lives.
The game just sort of happened. Leeds were there, but not really. Only a win would have ensured survival was in their hands on the final day, but they seemed weirdly happy with the draw, perhaps unable to muster the energy or quality to go for all three points, or biding time to roll the dice late in the game.
“When will Sam Allardye flip that switch?” Rob Hawthorne asked after 70 minutes on commentary, seemingly impatient, as we all were, for Leeds to try to win a game of football they desperately needed to. Seconds later, Bowen scored for West Ham, and that was sort of that. Rice et al. easily saw out a game against a side managed by a man you would have thought would have ensured fight was the bare minimum. But there was none, with the Hammers looking the more dangerous side until Manuel Lanzini put the icing on the cake in stoppage time after Lucas Paqueta waltzed through half of the Leeds team.
Leeds barely whimpered, and harsh though it sounds, deserve to be relegated after such a display. It’s not over, but someone should have told Leeds that before this game, because now it almost is.
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