Wilfried Ndidi’s last-gasp equaliser spared the Foxes blushes and earned them a draw after West Ham were sent down to ten men when Mark Noble’s red card piled the pressure onto the team following Fabian Balbuena’s opening goal.
After a fairly drab first 20 minutes where neither team were able to dominate the game, West Ham started to take charge at the King Power Stadium.
The Hammers would have been leading if Robert Snodgrass could have kept his close-range effort on target, but he could only drag his shot wide. But they did not have to wait long to take the lead.
On the half hour mark, West Ham had a free-kick which Felipe Anderson lofted in. Declan Rice was able to get on the cross and cushion a header back across the goal to Fabian Balbuena, who needed two attempts, but got the ball in the goal after his first effort bounced back off the post.
West Ham’s jubilation turned into panic as captain Mark Noble was shown a red card for a bad tackle on Wilfried Ndidi. Michael Oliver was 100% sure about his decision as he made his mind up almost immediately.
This meant West Ham were in for a tough hour of football being a player down, and Leicester almost immediately took advantage of the extra man. From the free kick, James Maddison managed to beat the Hammer’s defence with his curled cross. Vincent Iborra met the ball with his head but Lukasz Fabianski made a great stop to keep the Foxes out.
As the second half started the Leicester fans spirits were lifted as Jamie Vardy, who had been controversially dropped to end his 66 match starting streak, came onto the pitch.
Vardy almost made an instant impact. Mark Albrighton collected the ball out on the right-wing and whipped in a lovely cross towards Vardy, who tried to glance the header into the far corner of the goal. Unfortunately the ball drifted wide of the goal, much to the relief of the ten men of West Ham.
The game then fell into a rhythm of Leicester attacks and West Ham clearances as the eleven Foxes started to take charge over the ten Hammers. Leicester nearly equalised again as Ben Chilwell floated a cross from the left-wing. The ball found Albrighton who fired a perfectly hit volley goal-bound but Fabianski was equal to it.
Despite being under a lot of pressure, West Ham did continue to get forward as they wanted to get a second goal to put the game to bed. They could have felt aggrieved after substitute Michail Antonio was taken down in the box by already booked Turkish defender Soyuncu. It was a decision that easily could have been given as a penalty and a yellow card, which would have evened the teams, and put the game beyond Leicester.
By the 80th minute, West Ham had gone full defensive mode as defenders Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell came on to replace attackers Felipe Anderson and Grady Diangana, meaning that West Ham had seven recognised defenders on the pitch, including four central defenders.
But despite this defensive outlook the Hammers almost scored again through Antonio who battled in the Leicester box and won the ball back. His shot was not good enough to beat Kasper Schmeichel though.
West Ham almost rued that missed chance immediately as Leicester went up the other end and scored. However, Okazaki was offside on the return of his one-two with Chilwell. Although Leciester did get their goal, as Ndidi hit a shot from 25 yards, which deflected off one of West Ham’s best defenders Balbuena. The deflection sent the ball curling perfectly into the top corner of the West Ham goal.
The fantastic display from both sides in their respectably forced tactics was marred by a horrific injury to Leicester midfielder Dan Amartey. He seemed to fall awkwardly and cause serious damage to his left ankle. It is definitely an injury that will keep the player out for some time.
West Ham’s missing men
After it seemed West Ham had finally built a competitive squad, it has now been ravaged by injury. With as many as eight first team players sidelined including Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini, the Hammers could be in immense trouble this season.
This is even more evident with Mark Noble now suspended for upto three games after his red card today. If their young academy players cannot step up when called upon, they will be in trouble. Declan Rice is still very raw, but probably the most promising of the Hammers young crop. Pablo Zabaleta was full of praise for the young midfielder saying “he will be West Ham captain one day”.
The other most prominent young Hammer is Grady Diangana who has only appeared in a couple of Premier League games. He made his first start today and is keeping a former ‘Hammer of the Year’ out of the team in Michail Antonio, so if he can follow in Rice’s footsteps, then West Ham could navigate their way through this injury crisis.
Manuel Pellegrini must feel proud that he is really having his effect on West Ham. This is mostly seen in their defensive improvements. This time last year going down to ten men against an attacking team like Leicester would have led to self-combustion, but Pellegrini showed against Leicester that he wasn’t prepared to lose a game or draw when avoidable. He saw what needed strengthening and reinforced it. This was evident by the time West Ham had seven defenders on the pitch, desperate for points, but the defence stood firm and was only beaten today by an unfortunate deflection that cost West Ham the win.
Claude Puel’s one year in charge
After coming in to replace Craig Shakespeare on October 25th 2017, Claude Puel has found some good success at Leicester after his harsh sacking at Southampton.
Puel lead the Foxes to an 8th place finish last season after they had some early season struggles, and Leicester will be looking again to have a fairly good season after having to already play some difficult fixtures. Puel has shown that he is a perfectly capable manager in the Premier League and also proven that Southampton made a big mistake by replacing him as they haven’t been the same team since he left.
Iheanacho is not the next Vardy
Since his £20 million move from Manchester City it’s been a case of ‘so close’ for Kelechi Iheanacho. With four goals in 27 appearances, things haven’t clicked for the Nigerian striker, who maybe needs a lot more quality around him to be effective like at Manchester City. But Iheancho was given the nod ahead of Leicester City legend Jamie Vardy. To put it simply, it did not work.
Iheanacho was pulled off on the hour mark for Demarai Gray. Iheanacho had chances in the game but seemed to make the wrong choice each time. The most evident time was firing the ball at two West Ham defenders rather than passing the ball to James Maddison who had a clear line at goal. Leicester will need to find a more adequate replacement for Vardy as he ages.
Man of the Match: Fabian Balbuena
Despite the ball deflecting off him for Leicester’s goal, the ‘General’ Fabian Balbuena was a rock throughout the game and was one of the main reasons it took Leicester a fortunate turn of luck to get a point from the game. Balbuena made tackle after tackle, block after block and won every header that came his way. He also scored West Ham’s goal after some clever awareness in the Leicester City box.