Hammers Present Shakespeare With Stratford Win
By Tom Dowsett
Sunday 19 Mar 2017 14:49:00
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West Ham United ended 2016 with defeat to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. On Saturday afternoon, the Foxes did the double over the Hammers, as Craig Shakespeare's men claimed their first away win of the campaign by virtue of a 3-2 victory in Stratford.

Slaven Bilic made two changes to the side that narrowly lost at The Vitality Stadium last weekend, as captain Mark Noble was out with a dead leg and was replaced by André Ayew, meaning Winston Reid led the side out in the skipper's absence. 

Cheikhou Kouyaté moved in to the midfield, allowing Sam Byram to slot into the defence.

The Senegalese international replaced Sofiane Feghouli, who was named amongst the substitutes, while Ayew was in the starting line-up for the first time since his summer move from Swansea City.

Leicester were determined to build on their recent run of good form after they astonishingly knocked Spanish side Sevilla out of the UEFA Champions League in midweek and made a very quick start in this game, as they were ahead with only five minutes gone. 

A right wing cross from Riyad Mahrez ended up going straight in, giving goalkeeper Darren Randolph no chance.

The visitors couldn't believe their luck, as they went further ahead just two minutes later when some non-existent West Ham defending allowed Robert Huth to head a second past the Irishman.

Things were going from bad to worse for the hosts, as minutes later the stand-in skipper innocuously twisted his ankle and had to be replaced by Robert Snodgrass who was fit enough to start on the bench, despite picking up his own ankle problem against AFC Bournemouth last time out.

The Hammers were given a touch of good fortune soon after, as Michail Antonio was brought down and referee Roger East awarded a freekick.

Memories of Dimitri Payet came flooding back for the home fans, as Manuel Lanzini stepped-up and sent a curling effort over the defensive wall and into the net off the underside of the crossbar with Kasper Schmeichel rooted to the spot.

You would have thought that nerves would get the better of Leicester once they had conceded but this was far from the case, as they went on to add a third.

Andy Carroll failed to clear the danger from a corner and the ball hit Wilfried Ndidi and found its way to Jamie Vardy, who was able to deepen the gloom once again when he smashed his effort into the net.

The Irons were unable to convert another chance before the break and when the half-time whistle blew, boos greeted their walk to the dressing room.

There was no need for sonnets from Shakespeare at half-time, as Leicester continued to play with the same tempo in the second-half.

After an hour of play and completely out of the blue, the whole atmosphere inside the ground lifted and the hosts started to apply pressure. 

Three minutes later, the home support were cheering again, as Ayew marked his full home debut with a first strike in front of the Hammers' faithful. 

A corner from Snodgrass was flicked on by Carroll for the summer signing to head past Schmiechel.

After the euphoria of bringing the scoreline back within a goal of the visitors, there was another scare as Pedro Obiang went down injured, forcing Bilic to replace him with Edimilson Fernandes.

It was then all one-way traffic as the hosts were desperately trying to secure an unlikely point.

They went mightily close to the equaliser when Carroll's goal-bound header was beaten away by Schmiechel.

The Hammers then blew the chance of the game, as Antonio produced his best move of the afternoon and played in the impressive Ayew, but unfortunately, the Ghana international fluffed his lines and blasted the ball over the bar.

Bilic made his final change on 73 minutes when Arthur Masuaku entered the fray in place of Aaron Cresswell, as the Croatian looked to add more attacking threat.

By this point, Leicester were clinging onto what they had, as a low shot from Cheikhou Kouyaté was cleared off the line by Danny Drinkwater.

The home crowd roared their team on, as six minutes of stoppage time were added and once again, Carroll saw Schmeichel in imperious form, as he made an incredible stop.

When the final whistle blew, the home support were left wondering what might have been, as Shakespeare's dream start continued.

Although he played the whole encounter, it was reported after the dust had settled that Antonio would have to withdraw from the England squad for next week's Internationals, due to suffering a serious looking hamstring injury.

From their three games in March, the Irons have failed to register a single point and have now dropped to twelvth in the Premier League as a consequence.

Domestic action resumes in April and West Ham will be looking to start the new month on a positive note when they face a crucial game against Hull City at The KCom Stadium.

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