West Ham had only picked up two points on the road before heading to Leigh Sports Village, and despite a promising start, another point or three didn’t ever materialise for the Irons.
Guests entering the stage early on
West Ham got the lead within the opening quarter of an hour, when Oxford headed home unchallenged, after communication issues in the United back five. That was probably not as much of a surprise, if you take Tom Thorpe’s absence into account, as he usually is the glue of United’s defensive platform, delivering the goods on a consistent basis. This goal, however, lead to the Hammers going for a rather defensive approach from there on.
United reply in frantic fashion
United didn’t need long to take advantage, let alone flip the game upside down. Josh Harrop cut in from the left and pulled the trigger after only 21 minutes, and Sam Howes in the West Ham net made a proper howler by letting it into the back of the name.
Only sixty seconds later, Paddy McNair, who scored in the previous U21 game against Everton, proved his past as an attacking midfielder. The Northern Ireland international delivered an inch-perfect defence-splitting through-ball to Rothwell, who made no mistakes one-on-one with the keeper, and United went 2-1 up.
Januzaj key when United push on
Today’s United skipper in Tom Thorpe’s absence, Adnan Januza,j had an attempt after 25 minutes, after getting fouled outside the box. His effort took a defletcion, but went wide and only gave United a corner.
The game stalled a little for the next ten minutes, as West Ham sat deep and United enjoyed possession. Januzaj got another free-kick ten minutes later, but Howes was able to parry it for anohter corner, which United didn’t exploit.
United struggled a tad to take advantage of having the vast majority of possession. The closest we ever saw of a 3-1 before half-time was when the deep midfielder Liam Grimshaw picked up the ball inside the West Ham box after a corner, but unfortunately the 20-year-old Englishman had too many bananas in his back pack and the ball went some distance over the crossbar.
Hammers nicking the equaliser
At the other end, West Ham were more effective, althtough the goalscorer Jordan Brown better put Donald Love on his Christmas carol list. Love intercepted a West Ham through ball and attempted to utilitise Pereira’s feet, but the back pass went like a train off its tracks and Brown intercepted to score the easiest goal of his career.
Januzaj got rugby tackled down the right hand side by Lewis Page just after the goal. Page got booked and Januzaj instantly tried to take everyone by surprise as he curled it towards the near corner, but just as on previous occasions, Howes got his gloves to it.
Sam Howes didn’t enjoy a great half of football during the first 45 minutes, and it didn’t get much better in the final 45. Januzaj knocked in a corner on the 63-minute mark, and Howes let the the ball slip right through his hands whilst attempting to collect the cross. Joe Rothwell was at the right place at the right time and only needed a soft touch to tap it across the line. United were 3-2 up, and in the end this turned out as the decisive moment of the game.
With 22 minutes to go on the clock, Januzaj really should’ve put the game to bed. In recent U21 games the Belgian has appeared a little bit uninterested, but this night he was back into some sort of form. However, he didn’t do what he has done so many times on U21/reserve team level, as his finish after getting one-on-one with the keeper wasn’t good enough and went over the bar. By Adnan Januzaj standards, that really should’ve been 4-2, but it didn’t turn out that way.
West Ham knocked on the door after 74 minutes, when a cross towards Brown was headed across the face of the goal, but Josh Cullen got his head under the ball and it never made a proper threat towards Joel Pereira’s net.
Wilson not on top of his game
James Wilson wasn’t particularly effective in his role as a lone-striker this evening. Despite being displayed in a duo with Januzaj, the latter went roaming so much that there rarely was a striking duo to talk about. Wilson, however, entered the stage for a couple of minutes late on, to have a distant shot saved before he attempted a Wayne Rooney-esque bicycle kick, but it went wide and didn’t really offer any menace at any point.
The most surprising part of the dying minutes was the U18 centre-back Axel Tuanzebe replacing Joe Rothwell and taking place on the right-hand side of midfield, but apart from that the game kind of faded away into nothing but a few West Ham attacks.
United, top of the league
The red devils, however, extended the gap on the top of the U21 Premier League to four points more than Liverpool (who have a game in hand) and remain favourites for the title. Behind the top two, both Tottenham, Leicester, Southampton and Norwich are even on 25 points after 17 games.
West Ham: (4-4-2): Howes – Westley, Burke, Oxford (Onaraise 89), Page – Parfitt-Williams (Makasi 65), Nasha, Poyet, Knoyle (Pike 69) – Brown, Cullen
Subs: Pike, Bogard, Makasi, Onariase
United: (4-4-2 diamond): J. Pereira – Rafael, Love, McNair, Kellett – Goss, Grimshaw, Rothwell (Tuanzebe 85) – Harrop – Wilson (Weir 85), Januzaj
Subs: Weir, O’Hara, Tuanzebe, Willock, Fosu-Mensah