Angelo Ogbonna’s header moved West Ham up to fifth in the Premier League following a hard-earned but ultimately deserved victory against a Leeds side whose defensive frailties continue to prove their undoing since promotion.
Only West Bromwich Albion have conceded more goals this season than Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who have now taken just five points from their first six games at Elland Road since returning to the top flight. Here, they led early on thanks to a Mateusz Klich penalty, but could really have no complaints about what followed thereafter.
West Ham spurned a string of gilt-edged chances both before and after Tomas Soucek’s equaliser, and it seemed as though the game was heading for a draw before Ogbonna rose highest to head home Aaron Cresswell’s pinpoint cross and move the visitors to within a point of the Champions League places ahead of the rest of the weekend’s action.
David Moyes, who awarded a first Premier League start to Saïd Benrahma, had anticipated a stretched, open encounter, and he certainly got full value for that prediction throughout an end-to-end first half. However, it was his side who started the slower of the two, and they were punished after six minutes amid farcical scenes due to the interference of VAR which have almost become commonplace.
There was certainly no need for Michael Oliver to check his decision to award Leeds an early penalty when Lukasz Fabianski brought down Patrick Bamford, but after Fabianski saved Klich’s penalty, Oliver awarded a retake when replays showed Fabianski had come forward off his line as Klich stepped up.
Klich made no mistake with the second effort, making amends for a slightly tame first attempt, though the manner in which West Ham responded was certainly impressive. Sebastien Haller could, and perhaps should, have done better with two chances inside the Leeds box, first directing a weak header at Illan Meslier before a scuffed shot from the Frenchman did little to trouble his countryman in the Leeds goal.
But eventually, you felt West Ham’s pressure would tell on the home defence. When it did, though, Meslier should have done far better to prevent Soucek from scoring his third goal in four games, as the Czech’s header from a Jarrod Bowen corner was palmed into the net by Meslier, with Raphinha’s attempts to clear off the line after Meslier’s error too late.
Further chances presented themselves for both sides as half-time approached, too; Benrahma’s clever dink had Meslier scrambling before hitting the side netting, and then Bamford spurned a glorious chance to put Leeds back in front, with his free header inside the box straight at Fabianski.
Bielsa rolled the dice at half-time, introducing Helder Costa and Jamie Shackleton in a move which completely altered Leeds’ left side, and it almost had an instant impact two minutes after the restart. Shackleton’s probing ball found Bamford, who did well to turn and shoot, though he fired just wide of Fabianski’s right post.
But at the other end, West Ham and Haller always felt threatening, and the Frenchman soon had another glorious chance to put the visitors ahead again. Another wonderful ball from Bowen found Haller unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but his shot ricocheted off Luke Ayling, who certainly looked the part at centre-back, deputising for the injured Robin Koch.
The chances kept coming. Pablo Fornals dragged an attempt narrowly wide after being freed on goal, before Meslier produced a magnificent save to deny a Fabián Balbuena header from close-range. Meslier, however, could do nothing about what followed three minutes later, as Ogbonna’s header into the top corner put the visitors ahead.
Haller’s forgettable night in front of goal then continued when his overhead kick was palmed away by Meslier, before Balbuena this time beat the Leeds goalkeeper with a header, but was denied by the upright. There was one late chance for Leeds, as Rodrigo headed straight at Fabianski, allowing West Ham to leave West Yorkshire with victory secure.