West Ham hold off Leicester comeback to regain fourth place

Jesse Lingard scored twice as David Moyes’ Hammers took a three goal lead

Jarrod Bowen after scoring West Ham’s third goal against Leicester City. Photograph: EPA

Jarrod Bowen after scoring West Ham’s third goal against Leicester City. Photograph: EPA

 

West Ham 3 Leicester 2

On this evidence West Ham would not look out of place in the Champions League next season. Clinical and composed, the only time they look like freezing is when they have a 3-0 lead.

This is a team playing at the point of maximum expression and although West Ham’s squad has been stretched to breaking point, it is going to take something special to knock them off course after they regained fourth place from Chelsea with a win over Leicester City.

David Moyes, performing miracles with limited resources, could not have been happier after his dogged side held off an unlikely fightback from Leicester. Although West Ham lost two of their most important players to injury last week, everyone stood up to be counted.

In midfield Mark Noble, making his 400th appearance for the club, used his experience to lessen the impact of Declan Rice’s knee injury, laying the foundations for Jesse Lingard to produce another inspirational display with the hamstrung Michail Antonio missing up front.

Lingard, a revelation since joining on loan from Manchester United in January, scored twice in the first half to bring his tally to eight goals in nine games. Leicester were powerless to resist his clever movement and expert finishing. Brendan Rodgers, who left out James Maddison, Ayoze Pérez and Hamza Choudhury, has cause for concern before next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Southampton.

Although Kelechi Iheanacho almost inspired an incredible turnaround, Leicester’s hold on third place looks increasingly uncertain. They are a point above West Ham, with Chelsea only two behind, and are in danger of letting a top-four finish slip from their grasp for the second successive season.

Forget the late drama: Leicester were dreadful for the first 70 minutes, completely failing to cope with West Ham’s revamped front three. West Ham, playing without a conventional striker, were fine without Antonio as their focal point. Lingard was outstanding again, linking expertly with Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen, who laid on an assist before scoring the game’s decisive goal.

With both defences giving little away during the early stages, it needed individual flair to force the game open. After 28 minutes West Ham turned to Arthur Masuaku, who was always keen to attack at left wing-back. Direct and skilful, Masuaku almost found Bowen with one early cross and he was involved again when West Ham took the lead, brilliantly skipping past Ricardo Pereira before swinging in a ball that just eluded Fornals at the far post.

Leicester failed to heed the warning as Vladimir Coufal arrived on the right to gather the loose the ball. The Czech wing-back had time to make his mind up before cutting the ball back to the edge of the area for Lingard, whose right-footed finish bounced into the ground and past Kasper Schmeichel, who was partially unsighted by Fornals.

Taking the lead in such a tight game felt vital. Forced to chase an equaliser, Leicester stepped out and began to leave space behind their back three. It suited West Ham perfectly and they should have scored again when Coufal burst through on the right, only to dither when Fornals was free at the far post.

No matter. Two minutes before the interval Issa Diop had time to bring the ball out from the back before lifting another pass down the right. This time Bowen, curving his run to beat the offside trap, raced through, drawing Schmeichel before rolling the ball across to Lingard for a simple finish.

Leicester were stunned. Pallid with the ball, they barely threatened after Iheanacho sent an early chance wide after a mistake by Aaron Cresswell.

Jamie Vardy was kept under wraps by Diop and Craig Dawson, whose positioning was outstanding at the heart of the back three, and Leicester found themselves overwhelmed in central midfield, where Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans struggled to compete with Noble and Tomas Soucek.

Although Rodgers made an adjustment at half-time, replacing Daniel Amartey with Luke Thomas, the pattern remained the same. After 48 minutes Iheanacho lazily conceded possession, allowing West Ham to attack again down the left. The move progressed quickly, Masuaku and Lingard combining before a deft final pass from Soucek to Bowen, who adjusted his feet quickly before jabbing a low finish past Schmeichel.

West Ham were rampant, chasing a fourth. Lingard, impressing in front of the England manager, Gareth Southgate, crossed and the unmarked Diop headed past Schmeichel. VAR intervened, disallowing the goal for offside Yet three-nil is a dangerous lead as far as West Ham are concerned.

Leicester stirred, pulling one back when Iheanacho hammered in a shot from 20 yards after an error from Masuaku. Livid, Moyes watched the game change.

Pereira was inches away from scoring and Leicester set up a frantic finish when Iheanacho grabbed another back, converting Marc Albrighton’s cross in the first of six added minutes.

It was closer than it should have been. In the end, though, the prospect of Champions League football at the London Stadium was closer than ever before. - Guardian

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