Written by Steve Claydon @trbeat
Let me start by saying I am not a huge Leicester fan. Let me take that one step further and let you know how much I detest their goalkeeper. I won’t be using his name at all. What he did, allegedly, to help in the removal of Claudio Ranieri makes me sick, and granted a lot of it might be hearsay but I lack respect for him, or any player, that performs that kind of shenanigans. Added to that I think he is an arrogant beep.
Ok, I feel better for saying that. For now.
Leicester came to the Olympic Stadium without an away win all season, however watching them play against Sevilla during the week had me a little more than worried. They were playing with that swagger they had last year; running hard, playing as a team and contesting every ball with a snap.
With Noble out with a dead leg, Byram was recalled back to the backline along with Reid, Fontes and Cresswell. Obiang and Kouyate were in midfield, with Antonio, Lanzini and Ayew ahead of them and Carroll up top.
The fans got the team line up they wanted, and I, for one, wanted to see Noble replaced as well. He has been out of sorts the last few weeks and looks tired, and with everything that has gone on within the club over recent months, both on and off the pitch, it is no surprise.
Well if we started slowly last week we took that to a new level this time out. Five minutes in Cresswell decided to give Mahrez too much space and his cross missed everyone, bounced in front of Randolph, and spun into the corner of the net. 0-1.
What was disappointing was that Fonte again played his man, Okazaki, instead of the ball, although it was a delicious cross and any touch would have most likely beaten Randolph. You have to put this one down to Cresswell, though, by not closing Mahrez down quick enough.
To compound matters; two minutes later, Okazaki playing head ball was taken down by Reid. Reid, clearly upset, can only have himself to blame as it was a clear push in the back. A very cleverly worked free kick left Huth with just the keeper to beat. Hands were raised, fingers were pointing, and the air was sucked out of the stadium; so bad that you could tell from my living room, some 3,571 miles away.
So many defensive errors here – from Carroll not shutting Albrighton down quick enough, to Fonte being out of position – Cresswell was in no man’s land, and Reid was not getting out fast enough and played everyone onside. Shambolic defending, and as I have said before this, is not Premiership quality; it’s Sunday league.
And then Fear of the West Ham Walking Dead set in. Could it be five before half time? Just like a tired boxer we were on the ropes hoping to see the next round or two out and allow us to catch our breath.
After a couple of speculative attempts from Lanzini and Antonio, things settled down, and now the game plan had to be the claw back into the match. It looked the bleeding has stopped.
Then Reid stretched for a ball and down he went to the ground. Whatever fitness test he had before the game lied to him, and everyone else.
Kouyate, who finally had his wish of playing in the middle of the park, was about to be the butt of a bad joke. “Hey, I know you like midfield, and I know we have CB on the subs bench, but why don’t you slot yourself into that defensive position”. I can only imagine what Kouyate was thinking.
I am torn by Slav’s decision here. Collins would have brought more stability to the defence, but his lack of pace may have been an issue with tracking Vardy and company, so I’m going to let this one slide.
On came Snodgrass, and the reshuffle began.
Finally, we started to come to life with Antonio and Lanzini looking the most dangerous, and it as these two that got us back in the game. A well-played ball into Antonio allowed him to control it and as he started his move towards goal with hacked down by Drinkwater. After watching the replays, it turned out to be a nasty lunge of a tackle and one which could have done some real damage. I think he got away with one there.
Up stepped Lanzini. Some twenty odd yards out. Four quick steps. Kick. Effortlessly the ball zipped over the wall, swerve to the left and left the Leicester goalkeeper stranded. He didn’t even move. Move over Payet. We have a new free kick Sheriff in town. GOOOOAAALLLL. Get in there. Game on. 1-2.
Now we looked dangerous; now we looked like we might salvage something from a terrible start.
Heading towards the end of the first half if we could go in at 1-2 I would be happy, but West Ham doesn’t ‘do’ happy. Leicester’s fourth corner of the game was swung in by Mahrez – swing and a miss of the head by Carroll – that messed with everyone – and the ball fell to Vardy, who lashed it home and then proceeded to bow right in front of the West Ham fans. I’m assuming he was treated with the utmost respect both verbally and visually. 1-3.
And so once again, two goals down and back on the ropes.
All the same problems week in week out were evident. No communication, poor service to the strikers, poor control by the players, and just a few players showing the West Ham heart.
The second half started, and for the first 10 minutes or so I was wondering if we thought we could get anything from this game. There was an evident lack of intensity, drive, and desire.
After Lanzini had tested the Leicester goalkeeper again from a long free kick, the ensuing corner was neatly played back across the box by Carroll and Ayew headed home from close range to cut the lead. 2-3.
I loved the passion from Ayew.
Obiang was taken off with what looks like a bad ankle injury, so now we have two attacking midfielders in holding roles.
We finally ratcheted up the pressure with wave after wave of attack. Byram was menacing down the right side and seemed to enjoy himself.
Masuaku replaced Cresswell, and I’d be interested to know if that was due to an injury, tiredness or something else.
Subs were brought on to slow the game down, but we were forcing everything, trying to keep the momentum. In the 78th minute, Antonio went on a mazy run, found Ayew with a sweet pass in the penalty box, who from twelve yards out just had the keeper to beat and managed to find row z in the stands, which is no mean feat bearing in mind how far row z is away.
If Carroll has a goal of the season contender that may be ‘miss of the season’ contender. May. Ayew sat, head in hands, cursing at himself.
With 6 minutes of added time, the outcome of the game was sealed in the 92 minute. No Leicester did not score. Snodgrass hit a free kick into the wall, and this time the ball ran our way and fell to Carroll 6 yards out. Who missed. He missed. He missed from 6 yards out. Carroll can now be credited with ‘goal of the season’ and ‘miss of the season’.
Time expired and another 3-2 loss. Bilic wanted 9 points from 3 games; we are going to be lucky to get 1 point from 3 games.
Blame for everyone, and apparently, we fancy a quick flirt with that old girlfriend of ours called Relegation Battle.
Man of the Match: Lanzini.
Steve’s Five Talking Points
1) Sam Byram – While I am not saying he is our answer at right back he has been no worse that Kouyate, Nordtveit, Antonio or anyone else who has played there this season. Apart from a couple of times when he was out of position, one nearly costing us another goal towards the end of the game, he reminded me of Cresswell when he first hit the team; marauding, a little fearless and always willing to push forward. He also had some nice touches and skill to his game. I would let him serve out the rest of the season to see what we have with him to help us determine fully what our RB situation in the summer is.
2) Robert Snodgrass. Seemed quite willing all day to let Byram run the flanks and put the crosses in. I do like his spirit, but I was disappointed today in him not driving in on the backs and causing them some issues.
3) Lanzini. Pay him. Pay him. Pay him. Oh and pay him. He worked his socks off today and was a cut above everyone else on both teams. His goal was sublime. Lock this man down to a long contract and pay him handsomely. We should be building our future around this player.
4) Striker you say. The striker issues have plagued us all season. We have to find a striker, and a striker that is clinical; two huge misses today killed us off. I don’t want another big man target. I love the Sturridge type of player – I just don’t want him, as he is another player who struggles with injuries. Ayew missed an absolute sitter, and Carroll one-upped him at the end by missing from 6 yards out. When we go striker hunting this summer one of the skills he must have is an ability to finish those chances. If we took either one of those chances today, we could’ve come away with at least a point.
5) Fragile Defence. If we thought the right side was a problem the centre is not much better. We have a serious issue in the middle of defence that needs addressing urgently. If that does not get fixed this week, we will need to score 3 to 4 every week to register a draw or sneak a win.