Leeds United 2 West Ham 2: Whites ace enters record books but VAR dismay in Elland Road thriller

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Leeds United’s first game of the new year ended in a 2-2 draw against Wednesday night’s Premier League visitors West Ham United after a pulsating and end-to-end contest at Elland Road.

Leeds went ahead in the 27th minute through a clinical finish from Willy Gnonto after a lovely move and one-two with Crysencio Summerville who laid on a perfect through ball. At 19 years and 60 days old, Gnonto became the third youngest Italian scorer in Premier League history and also the youngest Leeds top-flight scorer since James Milner in April 2004.

West Ham, though, equalised in the 45th minute after the intervention of VAR led to an Irons penalty for Pascal Struijk's foul on Jarrod Bowen and Paqueta coolly converted the spot kick. The Hammers then went ahead less than one minute into the second half as a misplaced pass from Brenden Aaronson was cut out by Gianluca Scamacca who punished Aaronson with a perfect first time finish from the edge of the box that went in off the post. But Leeds drew level with 20 minutes left after a tremendous finish from Rodrigo who rifled home a low drive from the edge of the box after a lay off from substitute Jack Harrison. Both sides then had chances to bag a winner but a thrilling contest ended in a 2-2 draw which took Leeds up to 14th place.

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There were then emotional scenes at the full-time whistle as second-half substitute Mateusz Klich was given a guard of honour by United’s players as he left the pitch in tears, all but confirming his exit from the Whites.

CLINICAL: Willy Gnonto fires Leeds United in front against West Ham. Picture by Bruce RollinsonCLINICAL: Willy Gnonto fires Leeds United in front against West Ham. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
CLINICAL: Willy Gnonto fires Leeds United in front against West Ham. Picture by Bruce Rollinson

Leeds were given an opening in the second minute when Rodrigo seized upon a loose pass and raced through on goal but Nayef Aguerd was able to make an excellent sliding tackle and force a corner before Rodrigo could shoot. Three minutes later, West Ham were let in themselves as Robin Koch's back header sent Scamacca away but Scamacca also took too long to shoot and was tackled as he looked to turn inside the box.

Rodrigo was then booked for catching Declan Rice with a high boot on the side of his head. After getting back to his feet, Rice sliced a shot from the edge of the area towards the byline but West Ham applied some pressure and Paqueta saw a stinging volley blocked.

The Irons pressure continued and only a fine header from Luke Ayling prevented Tomas Soucek from getting on the end of a Bowen cross from the right. Leeds rallied and after fine work from Ayling, Tyler Adams won a free-kick on the edge of the box but a neatly worked routine ended with Rodrigo's attempt being deflected wide.

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But Leeds were starting to get on the front foot and the Whites went ahead in the 27th minute through a clinical strike from Gnonto after a lovely move and fine assist from Summerville as part of a lovely one-two. Gnonto picked up possession on the right flank and raced inside before passing to Summerville who laid on a precise through ball and Gnonto then applied a brilliant first time finish that flew past Lukasz Fabianski into the bottom left corner.

Leeds quickly pushed for a second and another firm low strike from Gnonto was this time saved by Fabianski. From a half cleared corner, Aaronson sent a first time attempt over the bar before West Ham threatened when a lovely ball from Pablo Fornals played in Paqueta who could only find the side netting as he looked to beat Illan Meslier.

Moments later, Meslier came flying out of his area to clear a through ball which fell straight to Vladimir Coufal who tried to apply a looping finish into an empty net from 40 yards out and only just failed as his effort skimmed over. Cooper was then booked for taking out Scamacca as the Italian forward looked to break and the offside flag then saved Leeds as Soucek headed home from close range after a spell of pressure. But West Ham were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time following the intervention of VAR after Struijk tripped Bowen and Paqueta stepped up to send a cool spot kick into the right side of the net.

Leeds looked to have survived as referee David Coote allowed play to continue and Fornals fired a golden opportunity wide but VAR instructed Coote to check the Struijk tackle on his monitor and there was only ever going to be one outcome given the challenge.

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Neither side made any changes during the half-time break and West Ham then went ahead less than one minute after the restart after a Whites gift but superb finish from Scamacca. Aaronson played a bad pass looking for Marc Roca inside his own half which was intercepted by Scamacca who then applied a fine first time finish from 20 yards out that went in off the post. The Hammers pushed for a third and Fornals saw one shot blocked before another sailed wide.

At the other end, Leeds were awarded a free-kick for a high boot from Fornals who almost caught Ayling in the face as he looked to clear but the free kick was headed wide by Cooper. Rodrigo then fired wide on the turn as Leeds responded but Summerville then went into the book after flying into Coufal on the touchline.

Summerville and also Aaronson were then subbed as Harrison and Klich were brought on just after the hour mark but the Irons continued to threaten and Paqueta fired another attempt wide. Leeds wasted an opening as Rodrigo strayed offside from Harrison’s through ball and sliced his shot wide but Rodrigo responded in style less than one minute with a tremendous finish from the edge of the box after Harrison's lay off to draw the Whites level at 2-2.

The Hammers looked to immediately respond but Rice walloped a volley over and wide from the edge of the box before alert goalkeeping from Meslier snuffed out danger from a Hammers free-kick. Back came Leeds and a fine through ball from Harrison released Rodrigo whose rising shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Fabianski.

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Sam Greenwood replaced Roca as the fourth Leeds change with 12 minutes left and Whites boss Jesse Marsch then found himself booked for his protests at a throw-in awarded to the Hammers. Rice then wasted another Irons opening by lashing another 20-yard attempt well wide before Leeds wasted a glorious opportunity as Cooper smashed a shot over from a few yards out from a corner after his initial attempt was blocked on the line.

Marsch made one last change as the game entered five minutes of stoppage time as Joe Gelhardt was brought on to replace Gnonto who left the field to a standing ovation. West Ham then went agonisingly close to bagging a 95th minute winner when a cross flew across goal and narrowly evaded Michail Antonio on the stretch. But even then the drama was still not done as only an amazing save from Fabianski kept out a Rodrigo header from a set piece in the 96th minute.

Leeds United: Meslier; Ayling, Cooper, Koch, Struijk; Adams, Roca (Greenwood 78); Summerville (Harrison 62), Aaronson (Klich 62), Gnonto (Gelhardt 90), Rodrigo. Subs not used: Robles, Firpo, Llorente, Kristensen, Gyabi.

West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal (Cresswell 68), Dawson, Aguerd, Kehrer, Rice, Souček, Fornals (Downed 80), Paquetá (Benrahma 80), Bowen, Scamacca (Antonio 68). Subs not used: Areola, Ogbonna, Johnson, Emerson, Lanzini.

Referee: David Coote.

Attendance: 36,173.