Sunday, August 16

Back to reality as Hammers out-Foxed by Leicester

West Ham 1 Leicester City 2

As the tube arrives at Upton Park there’s sense of sadness at the thought that this is is the last time we’ll be starting a season at the Boleyn. And does the clock still stand at ten to three, Rupert Brooke style? No, the sexist “Don’t kill your wife let us do it!” sign above the dry cleaners in Green Street has lost its clockface entirely, as if time has stopped altogether in E13, which is probably a matter for Michael the Whovian.

At the station I’ve bumped into my old schoolmate Steve who still travels up from Cornwall for home games, a sign of the strange devotion our not often successful team inspires. Inside Ken’s Café Matt and Lisa are attending their second game of the day having already seen the under-18s at Little Heath and been in close proximity to Martin Samuelson, while Michael is looking forward to Bakkhai at the Almeida, which is presumably some play about a Greek full-Bakkhai

For some reason it’s “claret and blue day”. As the teams come on claret and purple streamers cascade from above the stands. Are they the remnants of an Ann Summers’ gift-wrapping outlet? One gets caught in the roof of the East stand and stays there all game.

West Ham have a decent first 20 minutes as a free kick from Payet sees Morgan head against his own bar and Sakho volleys over after a Zarate shot is blocked. But slowly Leicester come into it. Vardy and Jenkinson are causing Jenkinson problems and the speedy Vardy is booked for clattering into Adrian. On the other flank Mahrez skins Cresswell and forces a good save from Adrian. The Hammers’ custodian then makes a decent save from Huth only for the ref to give a goal kick. Adrian makes a “shush” gesture to the Bobby Moore Stand.

It all goes wrong on 27 minutes. Reid doesn’t get close enough to Vardy, who crosses. Young Oxford has lost Okazaki and the Japanese striker produces a brilliant back-heeled volley. Adrian saves but the new City striker heads the rebound home. Ironic considering Vardy’s recent linguistic issues with a Japanese punter.

Ten minutes later we’re 2-0 down as Allbrighton gets down the left and despite five defenders in the box Mahrez arrives to fire home. “We’re Leicester City we’re top of the league!” chant the away fans.

West Ham rally a little before the break. Payet plays in Sakho who lobs wide but is also brought down by Schmeichel’s outstretched arm. Could easily be a penalty.

Bilic takes off Reece Oxford at half-time and brings on Obiang. Oxford has done some good things, but at 16 he’s still learning the game and this will be part of his education. A "Cologne Hammers" banner hangs from the Bobby Moor Stand and you wonder if they think it is worth it. 

But Obiang has a decent game and brings some good tackling and pace to the holding role. The Irons look a different side with Zarate hugging the left touchline and Payat more influential. Zarate comes infield to finds Noble, who crosses into the box. Payet’s first shot is blacked but the rebound is played into his path by Kouyate and the Frenchman sidesteps a defender to score a classy goal. Suddenly the crowd are up for it again.

In a spell of sustained pressure Zarate nearly scores the goal of the season after a mazy dribble but takes on one man too many. Leicester look dangerous on the break though and Drinkwater should make it three but fires over. Matt has his first Premier League tirade of the season at the hapless Jenkinson: “Don’t foul him… he wants the free kick… How difficult is it for Jenkinson not to foul him?”

The dependable Huth clears everything at the back for City. Our best chance comes when Payet’s header finds Sakho who volleys at Schmeichel who makes an instinctive save with his chest. There are only three minutes of added time, which is odd considering Leicester’s timewasting.

Adrian goes up for one final corner, leaving an empty goal, which seems an unnecessary risk. When the ball is cleared the Hammers’ keeper lunges in foot up and boots Vardy in the chest. Adrian’s eyes are on the ball but it’s a dangerous challenge by a player who’s not used to being outfield and the ref has little choice but to send him off. So that could be three games out with suspension. “Let’s hope Robert Green has his bags packed,” suggests Fraser. Jenkinson has to go in goal for the last seconds.

As I head towards East Ham tube there’s a familiar rumble of discontent that could have come after any home defeat of the last 40 years. “Typical West Ham… How can we beat Arsenal and lose to Leicester… that was disgraceful… I bet Allardyce is sitting at home laughing…”

In truth Leicester look a half-decent side, but we’ve struggled against the basic tactic of using Vardy’s pace. The full-backs have looked poor defensively, although the second half performances of Zarate, Obiang and Payet were encouraging. But Sakho was isolated up front and we still need reinforcements and typically we now have a self-inflicted goalkeeping wound. A definite reality check after the Arsenal win.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 5; Jenkinson 4, Reid 6, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5; Oxford 5 (Obiang 6), Payet 7, Noble 6, Kouyate 5 (Lanzini 5); Zarate 7 (Maiga 5), Sakho 5.


mj said...

With Liverpool the next away game, Bournemouth is now almost a must win. A "save our season" sort of game if you will!

matt said...

Page 41 of the programme outlined exactly how Leicester would play. Just a shame our management team and players didn't take any notice. The Bilic 4-2-3-1 is well suited to a team like Arsenal, who attack down the middle; but its limitations were exposed by Leicester, who play wide all the time. There's no wide midfield players to cover our full backs, and the midfielders and centre backs didn't seem to want to go wide. Bournemouth play in a similar way to Leicester, so hopefully Bilic will come up with an answer. Never a sending off for Adrian, clumsy, but certainly no more dangerous than Vardy on him. But the ban exposes the danger in our transfer strategy, if we decide Randolph isn't up to it. We should have just kept Jussi....

Frankieboyhammer said...

Looking forward to seeing Lanzini today, I think he will make a brilliant impact and could even keep Zarate out of the team

mj said...

I didn't want Sam to go, this is like Grant all over again