West Ham United 1
Leicester City 2
West Ham remain deep in the relegation mire after defeat to Leicester City at the London Stadium this evening.
Goals in either half from Kelechi Iheanacho and Demarai Gray, sandwiched by a Pablo Fornals strike just before the break, gave second-placed Foxes all three points, which move them to 10 behind Liverpool – the runaway leaders now also have two games in hand.
For the east Londoners, however, what promised to be an exciting season early on is now a fight against relegation – they lie just one point above the drop zone in 17th position.
Not so much a case of too much turkey on Christmas Day, for much of the first half this was more a case of too much cold meat and mashed potatoes for the two days afterwards.
West Ham were dreadful, full of the apprehension their 17th place in the Premier League has brought on.
To be fair Leicester didn’t look much better for much of the first-half – and for them the early knockings appeared a Christmas hangover from their 4-0 home stuffing by Liverpool less than 48 hours before this game kicked-off – a result which has surely ended the Foxes title ambitions.
The lull may have been induced by the vast changes made to both sides – seven by West Ham since the Boxing Day loss at Selhurst Park, and nine by Brendan Rogers, including the omission of Jamie Vardy, allowed a day of to welcome his third child into the world.
Contrary to the lethargy which was the back-drop to most of the first half, the 59, 919 London Stadium faithful were treated to a relatively fast start. Mark Albrighton, who of course already has one Premier League winners’ medal, drilled a low shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski in the fourth minute.
Then, four minutes later, drama. Fabianski, making his first appearance since September, rushed from his line, clattering into Iheanacho who had been played through on goal by Demarai Gray.
Referee David Coote booked Fabianski and pointed immediately to the penalty spot. VAR checked for a red card but decided a man was covering. But then, to add insult to Leicester injury, Fabianski got up and saved Gray’s spot-kick.
Arthur Masuaku had the Hammers’ first meaningful chance midway through the first half, a shot from outside the box on the left beaten away by Kasper Schmeichel to his left.
But the game was beginning to drift, and not until nine minutes before half-time did West Ham really look anything close to what could be described as threatening.
Pablo Fornals won the ball for the Hammers in his own half, ran through the vacant midfield and set Felipe Anderson free down the right. Anderson’s cross found skipper Declan Rice, deputising for the benched Mark Noble, but his volley was hit into the ground and easily saved by Schmeichel.
But just as the Hammers looked to have found some life, so it was that Leicester were ahead.
Masuaku’s poor header put his own defence in trouble, allowing James Justin to help the ball into the box. From an acute angle on the left Ayoze Perez headed the ball back from the by-line and Iheanacho nodded home from close range.
Gray had a great chance to immediately double the Foxes’ advantage, shooting just wide, before Pablo Fornals woke the London Stadium from its slumber, Anderson cutting the ball back from the right, allowing the Spaniard to sweep home.
But any impetus the goal may have given the Hammers was snatched away by referee David Coote’s half-time whistle.
Just four minutes into the second period, Christian Fuchs’ low left foot free-kick forced Fabianski into action, before Gray beat the West Ham offside trap, played through by Ayoze Perez, and easily guided the ball past the Pole in the Hammers’ goal.
West Ham replaced the ineffective Sebastian Haller and Carlos Sanchez with Michail Antonio and Robert Snodgrass, but in truth little changed. Leicester now looked by far the better side.
Skipper Wes Morgan – another of those Foxes with a championship medal – was allowed far too much time to twist and turn in the West Ham box on 68 minutes, before shooting at Fabianski.
The Hammers made a final change, Albian Ajeti on for Manuel Lanzini, but although they huffed and puffed, this was clearly second place against a team without a win in three months at home.
Hamza Choudhury had a chance to make it 3-1 towards the end, but his miss made no difference – and the Hammers now have an almighty scrap on their hands to preserve their Premier League status.
West Ham: Fabianski, Balbuena, Anderson, Lanzini (Ajeati 70) Sanchez (Snodgrass, 62), Fornals, Haller (Antonio, 55), Diop, Fredericks, Masuaku, Rice (c)
Referee: David Coote