Sunday, March 19

Super Schmeichel defies Hammers

West Ham 2 Leicester City 3

I’m taking Her Indoors to her first game for 20 years, and at Hackney Wick Nicola’s pleasantly surprised to find a German deli and an art gallery café selling chocolate Brownies. Just like Green Street really. We meet the O’Brien clan by the giant bell and then join Nigel, Fraser and Michael in the stadium, along with Matt’s sister’s mate Bob, a West Ham fan over from San Francisco. The PA plays Vera Lynn’s version of Bubbles before the kick-off as the club salutes her 100th birthday.

It’s a terrible start. After five minutes Mahrez crosses and, distracted by Vardy and Okazaki’s leaps, Randolph allows the cross to drift past him. Two minutes later a short free kick confuses the defence and Albrighton chips forward for the unmarked Huth to head home. Our new American Iron Bob is a litigation specialist in San Francisco and contemplates an action against the West Ham defence. Nigel suggests that Vera Lynn could do a better job at the back.

“How shit must you be, we’re winning away?” chant the Leicester fans,

Winston Reid and Obiang both go off with serious-looking injuries. Nicola, more used to equine sports, asks if players get put out to grass or shot if they don’t recover after ten days. That could spell trouble for Andy Carroll.

West Ham gain a free kick after Antonio is brought down. “It might all look different if this goes in,” I suggest, prompting Nigel to remark that I‘m an eternal optimist. Thankfully Lanzini puts a great effort into the top corner and Nigel’s temporarily converted to a Panglossian worldview.

Two-one would give us a chance at half-time, but the Hammers crumble again as Carroll fails to get his head on a corner and a confused defence allows Vardy to scramble home. Lanzini shoots just wide, but at half-time it’s looking bleak. Losing to a team that hasn't won away all season.

Vardy chips wide at the start of the second half but from then on it’s solid West Ham pressure. Lanzini has another great game and Antonio and Ayew start to trouble the Leicester defence. Byram is effective going forward on the right, though sometimes his final ball betrays a lack of confidence.

Lanzini’s free kick is parried by Schmeichel and from the resulting corner Andy Carroll gets a header in at the back post and sets up Ayew who nods home. Game on. The noise level rises and the crowd sense an equaliser.

The forgotten Arthur Masuaku has come on for Cresswell and has a good attacking game on the left. He plays the ball back for Antonio to cross to Carroll, whose header is goalbound until Schmeichel somehow scrambles it off the line and around the post.

The equaliser should come after a great dribble by Antonio splits the defence and sets up Ayew in front of goal. Somehow he blazes over when any shot on target would have gone in. 

West Ham still surge forward. There’s an almighty scramble from a corner as Kouyate has a shot off the line and Carroll gets in a low shot. In added time Ayew is brought down and from the free kick Snodgrass fires into the wall. The ball deflects to Andy Carroll who gets in a shot only for Schmeichel to make an astonishing save with his hand. It’s the old ‘star save’ that his dad Peter used to specialise in.

So it’s no glorious 3-3 comeback and we trek to the King Edward to meet Gavin, reflecting that we scored the best goal of the game but will never win until we start to defend properly. Though Leicester do look to be back to their best and Huth stopped everything. 

Fraser and Michael go to the bar and inform me that the bitter is from the bottom of the barrel. “Not the first time we’ve scraped he barrel today,” quips Michael. Though Nicola’s request for European wine means we’re given glasses rather than plastic skiffs. Michael leaves early for a Vera Lynn tribute concert, muttering, “We’ll score again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”

At home Nicola says she doesn’t know how I go to matches as all that willing the team to score gives you a headache. I explain that as a West Ham fan you get used to the idea that you lose some and you draw some. And apart from deep psychosis it has no long-lasting effects.

Serious improvement is needed to the defence if we’re to get the win or two we need to stay up. We’ve seen a good second half performance and an inspired opposition keeper, but Bilic has a lot of thinking to do during the international break.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 5; Byram 6, Fonte 4, Reid 5 (Snodgrass 6), Cresswell 5 (Masuaku 6); Lanzini 8, Obiang 6 (Fernandes 5), Kouyate 6; Ayew 6, Antonio 6, Carroll 7.

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