Saturday, 4th April 2015
Pinched? Oh, yes! We've been in their position, so I doubt there will be many Hammers who begrudge them their 3 points; I certainly don't. But this was a match they could more easily have lost than won.
They started well and put us under pressure. Nevertheless. Cambiasso's super opener was preceded by all of the luck that our hosts have probably been missing all season long. First it was a mishit pass that found its target. The next bounced off of Collins' backside, then sat up beautifully for the Argentine to leather it past Adrian's desperate dive...
From the re-start we went up the other end to force a good save from Schmeichel Junior. Only to see the ball come straight back into our area. Not much argument about the penalty - the otherwise solid Jenkinson brought down Ulloa. Up steps... Adrian, rather than Nugent.
It wasn't a bad penalty, but it was a damn good save. Adrian - hero of the day, if not Man of the Match. I may have have been a fairly rubbish Sunday morning footballer, but I also got handed the gloves not infrequently (as is often the case, because I was less unwilling than my team-mates!). I've taken penalties, and I've faced them too.
I'm an analyst too, by nature and profession. The behaviour of professional keepers on penalties always leaves me somewhat bemused. At any level of the game, if you commit early, you simply give the taker the opportunity to go the other way.
At the professional level, every taker ought to be skilled enough to be able to go either way at half-a-second's choice. At the professional level, both takers and keepers will have studied the opposition's penalty techniques, so you can't always stand. But every keeper almost every time seems to go early; penalty-saving suicide, in my book.
For once, Adrian didn't. And how many easy penalty saves are lost because the ball is belted more or less up the middle? What Adrian actually did was what I always used to do (I wasn't good enough that anyone ever studied my technique!) - take a big step forward, narrow the angles.
A good penalty taker can stick it right in the corner with pace. But even if you move early and guess right, you're still not getting to that. Anywhere else and if you don't commit early, you always have a chance, a chance you forfeit, far more often than not, by moving early. Coming forwards give you that little extra - the fraction you lose in reaction time, you more than make up for in intimidation and reach.
Our keeper moved a shade too early. I'm slightly surprised (though not complaining) that the kick wasn't ordered re-taken. It gave him the opportunity to make a terrific save to his left that kept us in the game. We'd started slowly, and 2-0 down before 15 minutes we couldn't have complained about.
From there, though, we steadily took more and more control of the game. Huth should have been booked on the quarter-hour for taking out Sakho. From the free-kick, a goalmouth scramble. We couldn't force the equaliser in.
Half a minute later, Sakho is played in again, does really well to keep the ball from running out for a goal-kick, plays it back to Downing. A cheeky back-heel returns the ball to our top-scorer, who forces another good save at the near post from Schmeichel.
Halfway through the half, we were treated to a peach of a move. Noble, Cresswell and Nolan combined, the result being a wicked ball across the 6 yard box. It seemed to catch Sakho a little by surprise; at least, it bounced invitingly off his knee... Only for Kouyate to slip on his first step toward it; surely he'd have buried it otherwise?
Barely a couple of minutes later, Song, looking much more like his reputation, put Downing through to the by-line with a glorious ball. A perfect cross picked out Nolan... And he missed the target! I hate the over-used "He should have scored" ('Scuse me! What about the keeper?!), but Kev should have hit the target. After that, it's in the lap of the gods. But he didn't. Another chance to equalise gone begging.
We finally did so just after the half-hour. Cressie passes inside to Song; Song dinks a perfect ball just over the head of the retreating Schlupp; Kouyate calmly chests it down and volleys across Schmeichel into the far corner.
We could have been out of it by the quarter-hour. By half time, we could have buried Leicester. Certainly, we should have led. The second 45 was a rather more even affair, and the luck went the Foxes way again.
Vardy sliced wide on 68 after more accidents and slips fell their way. On 72, a deep Downing cross found Kouyate who nodded down to Sakho, who tapped it back... And Cheikh hits the inside of the post. I wasn't thinking "It isn't going to be our day", but I can understand the feelings of anyone who, at that point, was!
As it turned out, they were right. Schmeichel tipped a wide Kouyate shot wider with 15 left; Sakho headed wide from the corner. Cole replaced him a few minutes later, and Andy King came on for de Laet.
On 82, Jenks had a header saved easily, the Foxes went up the other end, Reid and Cresswell between them slid in behind Adrian to clear Kramaric's shot off the line. Then, only a minute later, Schmeichel makes yet another save, tipping over from Downing.
Cometh the 85th, cometh another goal-mouth scramble. Yet again, the ricochets work out kindly for the home team - King manages to score off of Adrian's boot, having re-directed a mis-hit Vardy shot. Lucky for Leicester, cruel on us!
Even then, it wasn't over. It took half-a-hand from Schmeichel to tap out another wicked low ball across the 6 yard box. With two Hammers lurking beyond, it surely would have been a second equaliser. Alas!
Two-one was how it finished, and Leicester can yet hope. I think they will hope in vain. With Sunderland having beaten Newcastle, they remain 6 points from safety with only 7 games remaining. Eight for the Foxes, but the game in hand is hosting Chelsea - little chance of points out of that one.
I think 36 or 37 points will be enough for safety this season, but I simply can't see Leicester managing two points a game for the rest of this campaign. Notwithstanding the fact that, Chelsea aside, they are playing none of the top teams - Swansea and Southampton will be their stiffest opponents. I just don't think they have enough about them to survive.
As for us, I said after the Sunderland game that Leicester would be no push-overs. So it proved. Ho hum, should have been a point or three instead of none, but so it goes. There's little to complain of, except that we rather allowed ourselves to be penned back in the last 10 minutes or so.
Man of the Match is Collins again. Adrian pulled off that penalty save, Song looked much more like Dr Jekyll than Mr Hyde, and Kouyate showed why we've missed him in midfield. But Ginge was head and shoulders, literally at times, above his team-mates today. Ricochets aside, he was a rock today, upon which Leicester attacks foundered. It's just a shame his arse isn't bigger - then, maybe, Cambiasso wouldn't have had the chance to score that superb opener!
Next up, we entertain Stoke. Entertain is not normally a word used in close proximity to Stoke, but 'Sparky' Hughes has them playing a different brand of football than the Pulis-esque blight of past years. They're on the same points as us and, I'm sure, will be looking at finishing 8th, maybe 7th. It should be interesting...
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Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
Didn't have a lot to do, in all honesty. Brilliant penalty save, though, and unlucky not to stop their second.
Gave away the penalty, but that was about the only thing he did wrong.
Almost a 7, bar some occasionally horrible distribution.
Good solid game on his return from injury.
Nothing flash, nothing rash, well worth a MotM accolade today.
Still occasionally slow, still occasionally caught out, but looked much more like the late '14 vintage today.
Terrific finish and thank the gods he's back in central midfield where he belongs! Almost an 8 today. And I'm not the most generous marker in the world!
A bit under the radar today. Nothing showy, not a great contributor going forwards, but a vital, gritty performance in midfield.
He's not always in the game as much as you would like him to be, but he can't be accused of shirking. Not sure what his role was today; it looked more like winger than point; but he put a good shift in in both directions, and was occasionally influential.
It's often easy to find something to complain about with Kev, but not so today; decent performance.
A vastly more effective Maiga - he tries his best being "lone man" up front but I don't think it really suits him. Did OK today, but can we have someone alongside him, please?
(Replaced Nolan) Didn't have much effect on proceedings.
(Replaced Sakho) Always a trier, so again today, but what can you do in 10 minutes?
(Replaced Cole) 2 minutes plus stoppage time? I know he's only a stopgap and will not last past the end of the season, but with Valencia & Carroll both missing, I'd like to see him start alongside Sakho. We can afford to experiment!
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the Match: James Collins.
West Ham United
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Collins, Alex Song, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Diafra Sakho.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 31 .
Booked: Carl Jenkinson 14 Winston Reid 53 Aaron Cresswell 85 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Kasper Schmeichel, Ritchie de Laet, Jeffrey Schlupp, Esteban Cambiasso, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, David Nugent, Matthew James, Leonardo Ulloa, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy.
Substitutes: Marc Albrighton (Riyad Mahrez 45), Andrej Kramaric (Leonardo Ulloa 72), Andy King (Ritchie de Laet 79).
Subs not used: Mark Schwarzer, Marcin Wasilewski, Daniel Drinkwater, Paul Konchesky.
Goals: Esteban Cambiasso (12), Andy King (86).
Sent Off: n/a.