Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United came within minutes of a third Premier League win of the season on Saturday evening in their 1-1 draw with Claude Puel’s Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, but conceded late on to draw 1-1. Join us as we analyse five Massive Moments from the keenly-contested matchup that left the Hammers in 13th place in the table and the Foxes in 12th position.
Balbuena Fires West Ham Ahead
Our first Massive Moment in the East Midlands would arrive just half-an-hour into the contest, which, up until that point had been fairly even, with both teams pressing and having opportunities to open the scoring.
After a slow start in which they had to withstand an entourage of pressure, Pellegrini’s men had slowly started to grow into the game and were now on the front foot, looking to break the deadlock.
With half-time just 15 minutes away, this was what they would do from an excellently worked free-kick which had clearly been practiced and perfected on the training pitch and was won by youngster Grady Diangana, making an impressive full Premier League debut.
The task of delivering the set-piece, which was always more of a crossing than shooting opportunity, fell to Robert Snodgrass and Felipe Anderson, the former laying off the latter from it to cross for the head of Man of the Match Declan Rice, who nodded it across goal to centre-back Fabian Balbuena.
The Paraguayan was just yards out and in space but could only find the post with his initial effort, a header, although he was alert enough to follow it up, tapping home when the ball spun across the line and into his path. The summer signing’s first strike in Claret & Blue would give his new side a lead that would last over 60 minutes.
Noble Sees Red In Moment Of Madness
As Balbuena wheeled away in celebration at troubling the scorers for the first time in English football, if you told anyone associated with West Ham that the remainder of the game would involve staking out to protect the one-goal advantage, they wouldn’t have believed you. That was until our second Massive Moment.
A mere eight minutes after hitting the front, the Hammers quite literally shot themselves in the foot and unfortunately, the blame could only fall on one man’s shoulders, club captain Mark Noble.
Starlet Rice had recovered the ball from almost going out for a Leicester throw-in on the near touchline and played it to his skipper, via Anderson, Noble’s heavy third touch saw it fall at the feet of Foxes midfielder and eventual scorer of the equaliser, Wilfred Ndidi.
In an attempt to not lose possession of the ball, Noble lunged in and his leading (right) foot was comfortably off the ground, striking Ndidi’s shin, the Nigerian being lucky to have not suffered injury as a result of it as the Englishman protested his innocence.
Despite Noble’s best efforts to plead, he left referee Michael Oliver, who had been in a perfect position to view the challenge, with no choice but to send him off and reduce the visitors to ten men. The red card was what was largely attributed to the away side not leaving with the three points and the skipper will know how much he’s let his boyhood club down.
Half-Time Vardy Temptation Too Much For Puel
Our third Massive Moment is the only one of our five Massive Moments to have not occurred in play as it happened at half-time and involved a crucial tactical decision by one of the managers.
The boss in question is home gaffer Puel, who had raised eyebrows pre-match with his decision to leave joint-top scorer for the season so far and England striker Jamie Vardy on the bench to rest him, despite the forward declaring he was fit to play.
With his team behind against the ten men of the Hammers at the break and his free-scoring talisman still on the bench, the temptation proved too much to handle for the Frenchman and he took the decision to introduce him during the interval at the expense of the ineffective Rachid Ghezzal.
This call was one that paid off massively for the Foxes, as not only did Vardy make it through the second half unscathed after leaving the field early with a stomach bug in Monday night’s defeat to Arsenal, but he helped the hosts get back on level terms and win a point.
While Vardy didn’t score the late equaliser himself and wasn’t involved in the move for the goal, his presence helped to wear down West Ham as he proved a real handful with plenty of chances to notch the leveller, himself. He would have done if it wasn’t for a wonderful defensive performance from the visitors.
Fortunate Ndidi Cruelly Levels At The Last
With the aforementioned 90 minutes of excellent defending from Pellegrini’s men, a masterclass in the art, it looked for all the world like the visitors had secured an unlikely victory with ten men. Our penultimate Massive Moment prevented that.
As it turns out, credit to the Irons, it would take a major stroke of luck for Leicester to make the score 1-1 in the 89th-minute, one that would so cruelly come off the back of Balbuena.
This was typical of the back luck of the East Londoners in recent weeks, that a player who had performed so well, putting in his best display in Claret & Blue and scoring the goal that was poised to win the match, would be in the wrong place at the wrong time to undo his and his teammates’ hard work.
As the clock ticked down, Puel’s men were all out of ideas with waves and waves of their attacks met by endless resistance from the Irons, resistance that it didn’t look like they were going to be able to break through, and so Ndidi lined up a long-range effort, just over a minute remaining.
He struck it sweetly from around 30 yards, but it didn’t look like it was going to be on target and if it was, going to trouble the unflappable Lukasz Fabianski much, before it grazed the back of Balbuena. The deflection saw the ball take on an entirely new direction and bury in the left-hand top corner, Fabianski no chance and late heartbreak for West Ham.
Ogbonna Spurns Golden Last-Gasp Chance
It may have been the final minute of normal time by the time that the celebrations of the King Power Stadium had stopped and the game resumed, but four added minutes meant there was a long way left to go, leading to our final Massive Moment.
Whilst most of the chances in stoppage time unsurprisingly arrived at the West Ham end, the best of them came at the opposite end of the playing field, in a goalmouth that had seen very little action in the last 45 minutes.
With Leicester throwing bodies forward and no longer seeing their opponents as much of a threat, the Irons sought their opportunity to launch a counter-attack, similar to the one that had seen substitute Michail Antonio waste a great chance in the 85th-minute.
This time, the pacey Antonio was the creator as he burst away and eventually slipped Snodgrass in down the right, with Daniel Amartey down outside the area with a broken leg, it was four West Ham attackers and just one Leicester defender, behind the ball.
The Scottish International laid a pass back into the path of defender and sub Angelo Ogbonna just inside the box, leaning back and with space, he took on the shot first time and sent it sailing over the crossbar. The Hammers were never going to get a better chance to restore their lead and for the third match in succession, were left wondering what could have been.
So, now that all the primary Massive Moments from another game of mixed emotions for Pellegrini and his team, have been well and truly analysed, will we be looking back at more positive Massive Moments come Thursday afternoon, after Tottenham Hotspur have visited London Stadium in the Carabao Cup? Join us once again, then, to find out.
On a final note, we at West Ham Matters, along with the rest of the football family, would like to send our heartfelt sympathy to all of those who have been affected by the tragic events that followed the match on Saturday. Football has no colours at a time like this.