Hammers out-foxed at Leicester
West Ham United endured a frustrating end to 2016 as the fell to a 1-0 New Year’s Eve defeat at Leicester City.
The reigning Premier League champions edged an eventful, card-filled game at King Power Stadium which was settled by Islam Slimani’s first-half header.
The Algeria striker also hit the woodwork early on, while Michail Antonio’s thunderous volley came back off Kasper Schmeichel’s crossbar shortly before the break.
Both teams created numerous chances – West Ham had 25 goal attempts at a noisy King Power Stadium – with Darren Randolph, opposite number Schmeichel and their respective defences regularly called into action.
The opening half, in particular, was non-stop action.
Just 70 seconds half elapsed when Riyad Mahrez latched onto Demarai Gray’s pass and stung the Republic of Ireland No1’s palms, before Slimani thumped a header against the far post from Marc Albrighton’s fourth-minute cross.
After Antonio had volleyed Aaron Cresswell’s cross over the top from close range, Albrighton and Slimani combined again to unlock the West Ham defence on 20 minutes. Another sweeping cross from the right found the No19 unmarked, and Slimani buried his header back past Randolph.
Three minutes later it was almost 2-0 as Angelo Ogbonna’s unwittingly helped on Gray’s cross and the No1 was forced into an instinctive reaction save.
West Ham found their rhythm as the first half wore on, however, only for Leicester’s own back four to fling themselves in front of a succession of goal-bound shots.
The biggest chance came eight minutes before the break when Danny Simpson blocked Antonio’s effort, before Schmeichel got his legs in the right place to prevent Dimitri Payet’s follow-up nestling in the bottom corner.
Moments later, Cresswell overlapped and swung in a cross that appeared to be behind Antonio, but the No30 swivelled and fired a fierce volley against the woodwork!
There was still time for Schmeichel to sprawl to save a Payet free-kick and Randolph to do likewise to deny Mahrez, but Leicester somehow went in a single goal up at the break.
Into the second 45 minutes and, after a slow start, the game sprang back into life.
West Ham were again frustrated by a series of shots being blocked by Leicester defenders as the visitors upped the ante.
Leicester were reduced to sporadic counter attacks as Bilic’s men went on the offensive, but they just could not find a way past an inspired Schmeichel.
The Dane made a magnificent stop to keep out Cresswell’s deflected free-kick midway through the second period, pivoting on his goalline to save with his left hand.
A flurry of yellow cards, including two for high challenges by Daniel Amartey and Havard Nordtveit, and a succession of substitutions somewhat reduced the flow of the game late on, but West Ham still carried by far the greater threat.
However, clear chances proved much harder to come by, with Simpson’s block of Angelo Ogbonna’s goal-bound header as close as the Hammers came to snatching a point.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan ©, Huth, Chilwell, Amartey, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Mahrez (Fuchs 70), Gray (Okazaki 80), Slimani (Ulloa 83)
Subs not used: Zieler (GK), Musa, King, Mendy
Goal: Slimani 20
Bookings: Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Albrighton, Amartey
West Ham United: Randolph, Nordtveit, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Noble © (Lanzini 57), Kouyate (Fernandes 78), Antonio, Payet, Ayew (Feghouli 65), Carroll
Subs not used: Adrian (GK), Obiang, Quina, Fletcher
Bookings: Nordtveit, Ogbonna, Lanzini
Referee: Anthony Taylor