Declan Rice: Beating Leeds, special Saïd Benrahma, outstanding Angelo Ogbonna and a happy birthday Mum!
Declan Rice was beaming from ear to ear as he walked down the Elland Road touchline to speak to West Ham TV, having just captained the Hammers to a superb 2-1 Premier League win at Leeds United.
Five years to the day since he agreed his first professional contract with the Club, the 21-year-old led the Hammers to victory in an enthralling contest that saw the Londoners fall behind to an early Mateusz Klich penalty – scored at the second attempt after Łukasz Fabianski was adjudged to have left his line before saving the initial effort – before securing three points through headers from Tomáš Souček and Angelo Ogbonna.
The win took West Ham back up to fifth on 20 points from 12 games and, while nobody is getting carried away, Rice says confidence is high in the Claret and Blue camp ahead of next Wednesday’s derby with Crystal Palace at London Stadium.
Dec, you’ve just captained West Ham United to a come-from-behind win at Leeds United. How does it feel?
“I’m buzzing, over the moon! You could see tonight, when Angelo scored and at the final whistle, what it meant to everyone. We all got in a huddle and it emphasised what we’ve been about this season. What a buzz and what a win!”
We have hit a consistent level for quite some time now, with 32 points from the last 19 games. We’re quite good, aren’t we?
“We’re looking a real threat now. Obviously we’re fifth in the table tonight and realistically looking and speaking as a group of lads and a team and the manager, we know we shouldn’t have lost away at Arsenal. We should have won that game easily. Manchester United at home the ball goes out but they score and it’s a different game. That’s six points and we could be in the top four, up there, fighting.
“That’s just the buzz we’ve got around the place this season. The confidence is flying, as you can see, and everyone is fighting for each other.
“To be fair, tonight, their ‘keeper has made four or five worldies and it could easily have been four or five. And I thought we nullified them, to be honest, their game. We knew how good they were, to be fair, and they’re a new team in the Premier League and they play unbelievable football, and their style of play following you around is crazy, but we stopped them tonight and it’s a lovely Friday night!”
We could hear you on the pitch, encouraging your teammates and reassuring them that, even when the first few chances did not go in, the equaliser would come if you kept doing what you were doing…
“The game was opening up, you could see that. Once we’d beaten their first couple of players, it was an open game and for players like Said and Jarrod to get on the ball. Tonight was special and special for Said, as well. What a player!
“To be fair to him, we put him on their holding midfield player Kalvin Phillips, who is such a good player when the ball is at his feet and everything that goes through the Leeds team goes through him, and he really stopped him tonight.
“That was the job the manager put on him and when he got the ball, some of the stuff he did, you look back and go ‘Wow! What a player!’. He was really good.”
What a header from Angelo Ogbonna to win it!
“He is so good! Honestly, he has just gone to another level this season. He looks like a real top, top centre-half. He always has been, but this season he has really stepped up when it really mattered.
“The reason we are in such good form is because we’ve got two centre-halves and a ‘keeper who are playing out of their skins.”
Some teams might have panicked and sat back near the end, but we continued to take them game to them and we had Angelo crossing the ball and Fabian heading it against the post with three minutes to go!
“The gaffer was shouting ‘Get back Angelo!’. To be fair, it’s always horrible going 2-1 up because some West Ham teams over the years would have caved in. With ten minutes to go, you’re looking at the clock thinking ‘They’re going to throw everything at us’ and it could go either way, but to get that at 2-1 was unbelievable.”
We’re back at home next Wednesday at home to Crystal Palace with 2,000 fans in and hopefully we can back this up?
“Yeah, we need another performance, just like we did tonight and like we did against Manchester United for 60 minutes, but this time I think we’ll get it over the line.
“One last thing. Happy birthday to my Mum! Happy birthday Mum, 54 today. She doesn’t look 54, though, she looks 30. Love you Mum, happy birthday!”