West Ham crash to another miserable home defeat against Leicester City
PUBLISHED: 19:40 28 December 2019 | UPDATED: 19:44 28 December 2019
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Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini left on the brink of the sack after dismal showing
West Ham United 1 Leicester City 2
The Hammers slumped to their fourth successive home defeat to go into the next decade exactly where they had come into this present one - in 17th spot and just one place above the drop-zone.
And, once again, they only had themselves to blame after more calamitous defending allowed the high-flying Foxes to keep on course for the runners-up spot, while anxious Manuel Pellegrini must surely go into the New Year looking nervously over his shoulder.
After fit-again Lukasz Fabianski had saved Demarai Gray's early spot-kick, Kelechi Iheanacho took advantage of some woeful West Ham defending to give the City a 40th-minute lead with his fifth goal of the season
Pablo Fornals struck back with his first-ever Premier League goal on the stroke of half-time to give West Ham second half hope but Gray atoned for his penalty miss by netting the winner ten minutes after the interval.
Following their cruel, last-gasp defeat at Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, the Hammers made seven changes to the side that had lost at Selhurst Park as fit-again Fabianski made a welcome return between the posts, while Ryan Fredericks, Carlos Sánchez, Felipe Anderson, Arthur Masuaku, Issa Diop and Manuel Lanzini all returned to a starting line-up captained by 20-year-old Declan Rice.
And following an emotional minute's applause held in honour of West Ham United's 1966 World Cup winner, Martin Peters, who had lost his battle with Alzheimer's disease last Saturday, the crowd were again clapping for another reason, when Fabianski saved a tricky, early low 15-yarder from Marc Albrighton.
Absent for 11 long games over a seemingly eternal three-month absence, the locals were clearly pleased to have their Polish talisman back between the London Stadium sticks.
Despite their own festive four-goal mauling at the hands of leaders Liverpool two days earlier, Leicester had still arrived in the East End in second-spot, 15 places and 20 points ahead of Pellegrini's struggling side.
Brendan Rodgers made no fewer than nine changes of his own with only Kasper Schmeichel and Jonny Evans retaining their shirts, while rested top-scoring, 17-goal Jamie Vardy did not even feature on the bench.
On 10 minutes, though, the Foxes boss must have felt vindicated by that re-shuffling of his pack, when Gray sent Iheanacho clear of the pushed up Hammers defence and, when the advancing Fabianski clattered the escaping Leicester striker, referee David Coote wasted no time pointing the spot before producing an inevitable yellow card.
But faced with the perfect opportunity to put City ahead, Gray saw Fabianski correctly dive to his left to mark his return with a defiant penalty save that again had those Claret & Blue fans applauding, once more.
Midway through the half, Masuaku - starting in place of the suspended Aaron Cresswell - gave Schmeichel the opportunity to show what he can do with the gloves, too, and the great Dane responded by brilliantly beating away the left-back's scorching 20-yarder that sizzled through the Stratford night.
Then, ten minutes before the break, the breaking Anderson whipped over a brilliant right-wing cross but Rice arriving at the back of the Leicester area could only volley both into the ground and Schmeichel's clutches.
With the midfield becoming increasingly congested, both sides were relying on counter-attacks and five minutes before the break, one such Foxes forage forward saw the deadlock broken after more self-inflicted defensive carelessness opened the door to the visitors.
This time, Masuaku inexplicably headed Albrighton's left-wing cross skywards and with James Justin sending the loose ball to the far post from the opposite flank, Ayoze Pérez nonchalantly cushioned his header into the path of Iheanacho who applied the telling touch from a matter of inches.
Gray almost doubled the lead before Sébastien Hammer glanced wide at the other end but just when it looked like the Hammers would be trailing at the break, they launched one last assault down the right as Anderson collected on halfway.
The Brazilian played a neat one-two with Ryan Fredericks before whipping a low cross towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Fornals swept a low shot beyond Schmeichel as skipper Wes Morgan fruitlessly slid in a split-second, too late.
Haller was then replaced by Michail Antonio to the dismay of the home crowd who made their feelings known at the departure of the club's record signing but, within seconds of his arrival, the Hammers substitute was lining up for another kick-off after Leicester restored their lead in clinical fashion.
With referee Coote playing an advantage after Issa Diop hauled Iheanacho to the ground on halfway, Pérez sent Gray racing clear and he coolly curled his 15-yarder around the despairing dive of the lonely Fabianski to claim his second goal of the season.
Insult was added to injury for Diop who was duly cautioned, thereby following Masuaku into the book following an earlier chop on Pérez and a flurry of substitutions followed.
Robert Snodgrass duly replaced Sánchez, while James Maddison and Wilfred Ndidi came on for Pérez and Nampalys Mendy but with Manuel Lanzini standing down for Albian Ajeti, the third Hammers substitute soon found himself breaking clear only for Schmeichel to bravely dive into the Swiss striker's studs to deny him an equaliser.
In reply, Morgan of all people volleyed straight at Fabianski before Christian Fuchs also sent one wide from range, ahead of substitute James Maddison also seeing his effort saved minutes after England team-mate Rice had been booked for felling him in full flow.
'Going down with the Villa,' chanted the Leicester fans as the West Ham supporters watched on in silence at their own Claret & Blue team that had simply run out of ideas as it headed into the next decade just one point and one place clear of the drop-zone.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Fredericks, Masuaku, Balbuena, Diop, Rice, Sánchez (Snodgrass 62), Fornals, Lanzini (Ajeti 70), Anderson, Haller (Antonio 55). Unused subs: Roberto, Reid, Zabaleta, Noble.
FOXES: Schmeichel, Justin, Fuchs, Evans, Morgan, Choudhury, Mendy (Ndidi 70), Albrighton, Pérez (Maddison 64), Gray (Barnes 82), Iheanacho. Unused subs: Ward, Chilwell, Söyüncü, Tielemans.
Booked: Fabianski (9), Masuaku (49), Diop (56), Rice (76), Choudhury (90)
Referee: David Coote.