At their best, West Ham United have produced quality play this season. At their worst, the Hammers have been punished. It was nearly the former, but the latter prevailed at Bramall Lane on Friday as lynchpin Lukasz Fabianski was lost to injury early in the match and his replacement’s error saw Oli McBurnie lead Sheffield United to a 1-0 victory.
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In off the bench, Robert Snodgrass seemed to have a late equalizer in stoppage time, but it was ruled out by VAR thanks to a handball on Declan Rice, reigniting debate about the new handball rules involving attacking players.
The win for Sheffield United sees the Blades move above Manchester United, Tottenham, and Wolves into fifth, while West Ham still remains in 16th, just two points above the relegation zone.
Three things we learned
1. Sheffield United is back to business
Not that they had anything to prove, but Sheffield United continues to produce scalp after scalp. After a short three-match winless run that began to produce doubt over their ability to maintain the cutting edge they showed throughout the first half of the season, the Blades got back to winning ways. They dominated the midfield for much of the game, and looked dangerous in the final third.
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The Blades nearly came to rue some wastefulness on the near-goal by Snodgrass, but in the end they survived. Chris Wilder has been nothing but a pleasant surprise in the Premier League this season.
2. West Ham is doomed without Fabianski
It only took 38 minutes for West Ham to miss Lukasz Fabianski as David Martin‘s mistake gifted Sheffield United the game’s only goal. Fabianski has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the last two seasons, but this hip injury has kept him off the field in chunks. The Hammers have 15 points in nine games with Fabianski on the field, and just five points in 12 matches (including today, where he played just 15 minutes) without the Polish international. Sitting just two points above the drop, West Ham must improve between the sticks to survive.
3. David Moyes can’t afford to bench Robert Snodgrass
Robert Snodgrass appears back to his best, and David Moyes can’t afford to keep him on the bench. After a dry spell through November and half of December, the Scottish international appears back to his best, and West Ham will rue not having him on the field the entire match. Snodgrass was electric off the bench, and while Manuel Lanzini was creative at times, Snodgrass was consistently the team’s best attacking option down the stretch as they poured on the pressure.
Sheffield United was the better side for the first 15 minutes, and worked a great opportunity from a corner that saw John Egan head just over the bar. As the first half went on, West Ham built its counter-attack and worked a chance for Felipe Anderson who got by the Blades defense but scuffed wide left past a charging Dean Henderson.
One of the more influential moments in the match came 15 minutes in as West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski went down with a hip injury occurring on a goal kick, looking to be a recurrence of an injury he sustained earlier in the season. West Ham has been awful this season without Fabianski, and that proved important after the break.
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The loss of Fabianski proving tragic for the Hammers after the break. Sheffield United went in front on 53 minutes as Fleck snatched away a bad David Martin goal-kick and fed Oli McBurnie for the opening strike. The goal came on the game’s first shot on target.
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Snodgrass was influential off the bench, and Sebastian Haller failed on a pair second-half chances to equalize – putting one of those in the back of the net but the offside flag scuttled the chance. Snodgrass appeared to have the decisive moment in stoppage time, with the ball in the back of the net, but VAR intervened. Declan Rice fed Snodgrass on the break in the 92nd minute, and while his shot was slowed by Henderson, it wasn’t stopped, trickling over the line. On replay, however, a clear handball off the arm of Rice saw the goal ruled out. While the decision was extremely harsh as Rice had no way of avoiding the unintentional touch off the head of a defender, the decision was consistent with the rules that prevent attacking players from handling the ball in the buildup to a goal not matter the circumstances.