Sheffield United rode their luck twice amid further VAR controversy to edge past West Ham at home in the Premier League on Friday night, and move up to fifth in the table.
Oli McBurnie struck after receiving a gift from Hammers substitute keeper David Martin, but the Blades were even more fortunate when a late West Ham equaliser was ruled out by VAR in dramatic style.
The game only really sparked into life in the dying moments as Robert Snodgrass’s last-gasp strike was disallowed due to a handball by Declan Rice in the build-up.
But in the main, the game was anything but electrifying. The most noteworthy moment of the first half was Hammers keeper Lukas Fabianski being forced off through injury.
Early in the second half, his replacement Martin – promoted to back up the Pole after Roberto’s string of mistakes before the turn of the year – had a moment to forget as he played
Wilder’s men were in complete control, but late drama ensued. First Sebastien Haller’s effort was ruled out for offside, then Snodgrass was cruelly denied in the dying seconds to ensure Irons boss David Moyes tasted defeat for the first time since his return to the club.
Key Talking Point
Sheffield United enjoyed two huge pieces of luck to bounce back from two consecutive Premier League defeats.
First Martin misplaced a routine pass from a goal kick, which allowed John Fleck to square the ball to McBurnie, who squeezed the ball past Martin’s despairing dive.
But that slice of major fortune will not be the main talking point.
David Moyes was dancing on the pitch, after Snodgrass got the ball past Henderson, apparent #whufc equaliser, but VAR ruled it out for Declan Rice handball.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) January 10, 2020
That falls to the VAR decision that ensured the hosts secured victory against a desperately unlucky Hammers side, who were denied a draw in added time.
West Ham’s Declan Rice was adjudged to have handled before playing in Snodgrass for the apparent equaliser. The handball appeared unintentional but, since adding near-impossible judgement of ‘intent’ to the laws of the game would cause chaos, the VAR was within his rights to overrule the referee’s original decision.
Starting XI: Henderson (7); Basham (7), Egan (7), O’Connell (7); Baldock (7), Lundstram (6), Norwood (7), Fleck (8*), Stevens (7); McGoldrick (5), McBurnie (7).
Subs: Mousset (7), Besic (6), Sharp (6).
STAR PLAYER – John Fleck
The midfielder will have done his international chances no harm at all, as he impressed in front of watching Scotland boss Steve Clark.
Fleck was key in the opening goal of the game as, baring down on goal, he played in teammate McBurnie to tap home.
John fleck is a joke of a player!!
— Stuart Carswell (@StuCarswell18) January 10, 2020
John Fleck has to be one of the first names on the Scotland team sheet!!! Does it week in week out for Sheff United!
— Lewis Hendry (@Lewyhendry4) January 10, 2020
Fleck gave Hammers captain Mark Noble the runaround all evening, and controlled proceedings from the middle of the park. He almost got a second assist of the game when he picked out substitute Lys Mousset, but his effort was blocked by Martin’s legs in the Hammers goal.
The 28-year-old was composed alongside Oliver Norwood in the Blades’ engine room, and the duo were far superior to their Hammers counterparts. Fleck was the pivot through which all of the home side’s attacking intent was threaded, and brought quality to a largely lacklustre affair.
Key Talking Point
The trip to Bramall Lane was a big test for the new-look Hammers, and Moyes’ toughest examination yet.
But West Ham never looked like replicating the fireworks of the 4-0 home win against Bournemouth which kicked Moyes’ second coming off in style.
The biggest drama before the final minutes was losing keeper Fabianski in the opening stages of the game.
Starting XI: Fabianski (N/A); Balbuena (6), Ogbonna (7), Cresswell (6); Zabaleta (6), Rice (6), Noble (6), Masuaku (6); Anderson (7), Lanzini (6); Haller (7).
STAR PLAYER – Robert Snodgrass
The substitute changed the game once he came on to the field and looked to have grabbed a late-gasp equaliser, but was denied by yet another controversial VAR decision.
Snodgrass’ deliveries are brilliant
— West Ham Transfers (@westhamtransfer) January 10, 2020
Tonight again proved our desperate need for:
⏺ 2x Central Midfielders
⏺ Diangana recalled
⏺ Right Back
Fornals also has to start as does Snodgrass if you want to go more direct he’s our best set piece taker.
— Brad Palmer (@Mr_BA6) January 10, 2020
>Snodgrass scores a brilliant goal called back for accidental handball 40 yards away…..
— Rodney Marsh (@RodneyMarsh10) January 10, 2020
Prior to his role in the match’s main point of controversy, he had provided a spark for the Hammers from the bench. His free kick was met by Haller for the visitors’ first disallowed goal, and he continued to pepper Sheffield United’s backline with dangerous deliveries.
The Scottish midfielder was incredibly unfortunate not to earn his side a point but, on this display, it is likely he has earned a place in the starting XI for West Ham’s next game.
The Blades have a tough task ahead of them as they face a trip to north London to take on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in the Premier League next Saturday.
And the Hammers are also in league action on that day, as they invite Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton side to the London Stadium.