David Moyes’ West Ham United out-Foxed Claude Puel’s Leicester City to sail to a key Premier League victory at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon, confirming their hopes of beating the drop to the Sky Bet Championship this season.
On an easy afternoon for the Hammers on the road, Inter Milan loanee Joao Mario put them ahead just before the break from close-range, while the hone side offered very little resistance in return as they went five league matches without a win.
A stunning Mark Noble strike in the second half sealed the deal for the East Londoners, giving them their second away triumph of 2018, while City had to wait until inside the final ten minutes for their first shot on target on another disappointing afternoon.
The pivotal three points may not have been enough to move the Irons up any places, but they did see them pull five points clear of Swansea City in 18th place, securing their safety for another campaign, meanwhile, the Foxes stayed in ninth on 44 points, now five behind Everton above.
From the start on a Sunny day in Leicester, home manager Puel opted for five changes to his starting Xl from last weekend’s embarrassing away thrashing at the hands of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Coming in to replace the suspended Marc Albrighton youngsters Ben Chilwell, Wilfred Ndidi and Demarai Gray and club-record signing striker Kilechi Iheanacho were defenders Yohan Benalouane and Christian Fuchs, midfielder Vicente Iborra and attacking midfielders Fousseni Diabate and Portuguese International Adrien Silva.
Whereas, visiting boss Moyes decided on just two alterations to his own side from last Sunday’s heavy home defeat to the champions Manchester City at the London Stadium.
Democratic Republic of Congo International wing-back Arthur Masuaku came back in to replace veteran Patrice Evra, while further up the field, Portugal man Joao Mario was preferred to starlet Edimilson Fernandes, Adrian San-Miguel kept his place in goal in front of an ill Joe Hart.
Right from the very off at an atmospheric King Power Stadium, home fans watching their team play at home for the last time this term, the contest looked like it would have a convincing winner.
The Hammers dominated the early proceedings and had the home side hemmed in, playmaker Manuel Lanzini squandered their first chance of five minutes, however, unable to make the most of space in the area after Mario’s pass, seeing his shot blocked and Pablo Zabaleta follow it up with a cross that wasn’t converted.
Leicester goalkeeper Ben Hamer was clearly flustered by the early pressure and nearly gifted the ever-present Marko Arnautovic with a goal, almost losing out to the striker in Sven Ulreich fashion, though just clicking onto it.
A short while later, Lanzini would have another goal-bound effort blocked from a similar position, this time, by Arnautovic, his teammate in the wake of impressive work from the returning Arthur Masuaku.
The hosts could barely get themselves on the ball in the opening 20 minutes and their fans weren’t shy in venting their feelings of anger, letting them know how they felt from the off.
Meanwhile, a real battle was developing between Hammer of the Year and the away side top-scorer Arnautovic and centre-backs Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire, the defenders struggling to contain the Austrian.
This became apparent on the half-hour mark when Moyes’ boys really started to ramp up the pressure and create better chances after a period where it looked like the Foxes may have been getting back into the swing of things.
Once again, the breaking Lanzini and Arnautovic combined, the former setting the eclectically-paced Arnautovic away on Hamer, but the shot-stopper did well to close the angle and deny the former Stoke City star.
However, the next time that Arnautovic got a sight of goal, Hamer was well beaten, and he could only be denied by the woodwork from a scintillating volley.
A deep free-kick which was won by the Austria man was pumped forward Senegal captain Cheikhou Kouyate getting the flick-on, into his path, Arnautovic volleying, a slight deflection off Morgan and the crossbar preventing him from getting his 11th of the season.
But, if he couldn’t increase his goal tally for the season, he was just going to increase his assist tally instead, playing a major part in West Ham taking a deserved lead, just over ten minutes before half-time.
Masuaku bombed down the left side and picked out Arnautovic at the far post, Christian Fuchs went tumbling in front of him and he calmly laid the ball back into the path of Mario.
The former Sporting Lisbon man needed no second invitation to stroke the ball into a half-empty net in a measured fashion and give the vocal travelling Claret & Blue Army, who have seen their team concede the most home and away goals in the league this term, something to cheer about at last.
Mario’s second strike in English football almost brought the home side to life for a few moments, although still, all they could conjure up was a failed Riyad Mahrez cross from a promising position and a Fousseni Diabate shot that was pulled wide of target.
Things were as comfortable as the Irons could have hoped for in the first period as they reached the half-time break deservedly one goal ahead, although they were reminded of the quality of their opposition early in the second half.
The Leicestershire team started the second 45 minutes brightly and very nearly forced visiting full-back Aaron Cresswell, into a red card offence as he went to ground and handled the ball under pressure from Jamie Vardy just outside his own area.
Referee Chris Kavanagh decided that a yellow card was the only necessary cause of action and the Foxes couldn’t make the most of the well-positioned free-kick, that and a powerful Maguire shot that whistled over the top, the only action of any note in and around the Hammers penalty area, for now.
Not even the introduction of names such as Demarai Gray, Kelechi Iheanacho and Aleksandar Dragovic throughout the half, could inspire Puel’s men and it wouldn’t be long before the outfit from East London were back on the offensive.
Arnautovic, who now has ten goals and five assists in his last 18 outings, was unable to make the most of a pair of excellent opportunities in the 64th and 72nd minutes respectively.
The first saw him slipped in behind by Mario on the counter with, initially, acres of space, though the home defence recovered well and twice, he was stopped from laying the ball on a plate for Lanzini by Fuchs and Dragovic.
The second time, it would be defensive intervention that stopped him also, the front man collecting it in the penalty area and weaving in and out of defenders before looking for the far post, the tackle of Maguire just deflecting the ball over the crossbar.
However, sandwiched in between the two openings, a moment of pure magic from the captain Noble that helped to ser the cat amongst the pigeons and put the one-sided affair to bed for Moyes’ boys.
In the 64th minute, the captain saw a headed clearance by Dragovic from an Arnautovic set-piece fall to his feet, with his body as still as can be, Noble unleashed a ferocious low volley.
The strike made a beeline for the far corner and bulged the back of the net off the inside of the post, giving the stunned Hamer no chance of saving and sending the Claret & Blue Army into delirium.
After a tricky campaign and having scored the goal that is helping in keeping his boyhood club in the division, Noble enjoyed a special moment of celebration in front of the away supporters as they breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The wonderfully-timed moment would be the last real action in the home box, with the away side now looking to protect their lead by bringing onto the field the likes of Edi Fernandes and a more defensive Andy Carroll after a week of speculation.
This allowed Leicester to finally register an effort on goal on 86 minutes to ironic cheers, Adrien Siva volleying for Adrian to easily save, although the Spaniard was called into action again, moments later.
A delivery hung up to the back post was met by Yohan Benalouane, his header being clawed away superbly by the ex-Real Betis star, he then saved from the defender once again from a corner that followed.
However, the afternoon belonged to only one team and the scoreline reflected that in every way, the Hammers enjoying a shining light of an afternoon in a very dark tunnel of a season, plunging Puel’s and the Foxes’ future into further uncertainty.
Next up for them will be a double of clashes with North London clubs, the first of them coming on Wednesday when Arsenal visit the King Power Stadium, they then journey to Wembley Stadium to go head-to-head with Tottenham Hotspur on the final day, where they will hope to end the season on a high despite having only pride to play for.
Meanwhile, the East Londoners are also in action twice before the end of the campaign, two home matches at the London Stadium, against Manchester United and Everton, they will be relieved to go into them safe.
Hammer of the Match: Mark Noble
If you want to read more about David Moyes’ West Ham United’s decisive Premier League win over Claude Puel’s Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, you can, with our Five Main Talking Points and Hammers Player Ratings, simply click on the links.