West Ham United 1-2 Leicester City
MANUEL PELLEGRINI’S position as West Ham United’s manager will come under further scrutiny after Leicester City inflicted an eleventh Premier League defeat of the campaign on the relegation-threatened east Londoners
These are troubled times for West Ham and the importance of impressing their home audience wasn’t lost on under-pressure boss, Pellegrini
“Yes, of course, that is what we have to improve,” the Chilean explained.
We have lost too many points at home and won just one of our last five games there.
“We have to play two in a row at home and start by beating Leicester, a difficult game and a good team.
“Our team is in a moment where they are not playing bad but we must be more concentrated in defending.”
Pellegrini made no less than seven changes to the side which was beaten at Crystal Palace – notably, both Mark Noble and Angelo Ogbonna missed out, while Lukasz Fabianski returned in goal after a lengthy – and damaging – absence.
Defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool had dented Leicester’s title aspirations. Perhaps with that in mind, Brendan Rodgers freshened his own starting line up – making nine changes to the side which had been hammered by the Reds on Boxing Day.
Moving tributes were paid to the late Martin Peters ahead of kick-off, while Marc Albrighton swiftly tested the returning Fabianski, while Balbuena was unable to direct his header goalwards as the sides exchanged early opportunities.
But Fabianski’s first start in three months was to begin dramatically. The Polish stopper collided with the marauding Kelechi Iheanacho. However, he swiftly redeemed himself by flying to his left and keeping out Demari Gray’s spot-kick.
Buoyed by their goalkeepers’ antics, the Hammers threatened – Arthur Masuaku forcing Kasper Schmeichel into a tremendous save from his thundering right-footed attempt.
Declan Rice – who had taken the skippers armband – fired into Schmeichel’s gloves. But in truth, it was the Foxes who were playing the more fluent football and five minutes before the interval Iheanacho nodded home from close range after familiar defensive frailties returned to haunt the home side.
West Ham responded quickly. Pablo Fornals swept home after Ryan Frederick and Felipe Anderson had combined to fashion an opening, sparking scenes of joy and relief amongst the home crowd.
Pellegrini swapped leading marksman, Sebastien Haller, with Michail Antonio – which was roundly booed by sections of the London Stadium crowd. Then the mood darkened ten minutes after the restart, Gray – making amends for his earlier penalty miss – raced clear following a crisp break and beat Fabianski with aplomb.
Pellegrini’s decision to replace the beleaguered Carlos Sanchez with Robert Snodgrass received greater approval from the agitated Hammers support. Meanwhile, Fabianski kept his side in the contest, clinging to Wes Morgan’s volley, and then a fearsome effort from substitutes James Maddison as Leicester looked to put the match beyond any reasonable doubt.
The Hammers huffed and puffed in the latter stages, but Leicester comfortably absorbed what little was asked of them from a West Ham side lacking confidence and quality.
West Ham United return to Premier League action on Wednesday, January 1 when AFC Bournemouth are the visitors to the London Stadium (5:30pm).
West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini (Albian Ajeti 70’), Carlos Sanchez (Robert Snodgrass 62’), Pablo Fornals, Sebastien Haller (Michail Antonio 55’), Issa Diop, Ryan Fredericks, Arthur Masuaku, Declan Rice (Capt) Subs not used: Roberto (GK), Winston Reid, Pablo Zabaleta, Robert Snodgrass, Mark Noble
Booked: Lukasz Fabianski (foul), Arthur Masuaku (foul), Issa Diop (foul), Declan Rice (foul)
Goals: Pablo Fornals 44’
Leicester City: Kasper Schmeichel, James Justin, Wes Morgan (Capt), Jonny Evans, Demari Gray (Harvey Barnes 82’), Marc Albrighton, Kelechi Iheanacho, Ayoze Perez (James Maddison 64’), Hamza Choudhury, Nampalys Mendy (Wilfred Ndidi 70’), Christian Fuchs Subs not used: Danny Ward (GK), Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu, Youri Tielemans
Booked: Hamza Choudhury (foul)
Goals: Kelechi Iheanacho 40’, Demari Gray 55’
Referee: David Coote
Assistants: Harry Lennard and Nick Hopton
Fourth Official: Stuart Attwell
Reaction to follow…