West Ham stung by late Leicester equaliser
PUBLISHED: 19:44 27 October 2018 | UPDATED: 19:44 27 October 2018
PA Wire/PA Images
The 10-man Hammers were denied by a cruel deflection as Leicester rescued a point
Leicester City 1 West Ham United 1
Ten-man Hammers came within just two minutes of out-foxing the Foxes at the King Power Stadium, where Fabián Balbuena’s first goal for the club looked to have secured a hard-fought victory.
But having given his side the lead on the half-hour mark and then witnessed his skipper, Mark Noble, being red-carded shortly afterwards, the Paraguayan defender then saw the lights go down on his evening, when he deflected Wilfred Ndidi’s speculative 88th-minute strike past Lukasz Fabianski.
And that was a cruel blow for the depleted Hammers, who had looked all set to hold on for a hard-earned victory against all odds.
Both sides had come into this game hoping to avoid a hat-trick of Premier League defeats and following successive reverses against Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur, the injury-hit Hammers made a trio of changes from the side that had narrowly been edged out by Erik Lamela’s clincher last Saturday as Arthur Masuaku, Javier Hernández and Grady Diangana came in for Marko Arnautović (virus), Andriy Yarmolenko (achilles) and substitute Aaron Cresswell.
With rain teeming from the Midlands skies, West Ham faced another early storm out on the slippery pitch, too, with Kelechi Iheanacho correctly being denied a quick-fire opener by an offside flag, before the Foxes forced two corners and Marc Albrighton sent a low, angled 20-yarder skidding inches wide, too.
After back-to-back losses against Everton and Arsenal, the hosts had made a quartet of switches from the side that had slumped at the Emirates on Monday night. Debutant Caglar Söyüncü, Rachid Ghezzal, Vicente Iborra and Albrighton each returned to a Leicester side kicking off in 12th spot, five points and two places above Manuel Pellegrini’s men, as Jonny Evans, Nampalys Mendy, Ricardo Pereira and Jamie Vardy all dropped to the bench.
With ten minutes on the clock, Lukasz Fabianski bravely raced from his line to foil the breaking Iheanacho and then the red-faced Balbuena was relieved to see his own keeper claw his mis-timed defensive header out from under the far angle.
The embattled Hammers had barely got the ball out of their own half during those opening exchanges but, on 12 minutes, Robert Snodgrass saw his close-range shot blocked, while Felipe Anderson then forced Kasper Schmeichel into a low save with a low 15-yarder.
Snodgrass also dragged another one wide from range and, midway through the half, the Scottish international, who is enjoying a new lease of life under Pellegrini, stroked another tightly-angled effort across the face of goal and agonisingly beyond the far post.
Slowly but surely, West Ham were growing into this Saturday evening encounter and, on the half-hour mark, they duly took the lead, when Anderson and Snodgrass combined on a short free-kick.
With the Brazilian floating the Scot’s return pass into the area, Declan Rice nodded onto the Balbuena, whose diving header spun onto Schmeichel’s right-hand post and, as the Foxes disorientated ‘keeper desperately groped at thin air, the alert Paraguayan reacted quickest to stab the ball across the line.
But West Ham’s joy at having got their noses in front was tempered on 38 minutes, when the sliding Noble collected an instant red card for catching Wilfred Ndidi on the shin in full view of referee Michael Oliver, who had no hesitation in sending the Hammers skipper down the tunnel of shame.
Hands on head, the disbelieving Pellegrini looked high into the dark, late-October skies and just before the interval, West Ham boss had Fabianski to thank for keeping his team’s lead intact, when he brilliantly blocked Iborra at point-blank range.
Claude Puel introduced Vary for the restart as Ghezzal retired and, with Leicester trying to make a mark on the second half, Turkish international Söyüncü made a mark of his own on Hernández to announce his Premier League arrival with a yellow card.
Ndidi blasted wide from 25 yards, while Leicester had two vociferous penalty appeals turned aside, before Demarai Gray replaced Iheanacho and Pellegrini brought on Michail Antonio for the desperately dejected Hernández in a bid to repel the Foxes.
Indeed, with Leicester becoming more threatening by the minute, Albrighton forced Fabianski into an outstanding double stop and, after Vardy glanced a jack-knife header inches over the top, Harry Maguire sent a powerful header thumping onto the crossbar.
That was the cue for Cresswell to bolster the visitors’ rearguard at the expense of Diangana for the final quarter-hour, while both managers then went for one final shuffle of the pack with the introduction of Shinji Okazaki for Söyüncü and, yet another Hammers defender, with Anderson making way for Angelo Ogbonna, who headed wide within seconds of his arrival.
After Schmeichel denied the breaking Antionio, with just two minutes remaining, Man-of-the-Match, Fabianski, looked to have preserved victory for the Hammers with a miraculous parry that denied Vardy but, just as West Ham thought that they had held on, Ndidi let fly from 25 yards with a shot that ricocheted off the luckless Balbuena’s back and beyond the wrong-footed Polish ‘keeper.
Still there was time for Ogbonna to slice over and, after Daniel Amartey was stretchered away after a nasty collision with Antonio, it was left to Fabianski to bank that hard-fought point with a flying save to thwart Okazaki.
FOXES: Schmeichel, Amartey, Chilwell, Söyüncü (Okazaki 80), Maguire, Ghezzal (Vardy h/t), Albrighton, Ndidi, Iborra, Maddison, Iheanacho (Gray 61). Unused subs: Ward, Evans, Pereira, Mendy.
HAMMERS: Fabianski, Zabaleta, Masuaku, Balbuena, Diop, Noble, Rice, Snodgrass, Diangana (Cresswell 75), Anderson (Ogbonna 80), Hernández (Antonio 61). Unused subs: Adrián, Fredericks, Powell, Coventry.
Booked: Söyüncü (47)
Sent-Off: Noble (38)
Referee: Michael Oliver