28 December 2019
Leicester City travelled to the magnificent and packed London Stadium in Stratford, East London, to play West Ham this evening in this season of goodwill for all. But it proved to be unforgiving for the hosts’ coach Manuel Pellegrini as their defeat, courtesy of two goals from striker Kelechi Iheanacho and Demarai Gray, with a reply from Pablo Fornals for the hosts, proved to be the undoing of the Hammers’ Chilean coach, who was relieved of his duties shortly after the final whistle.
As the news of their coach’s sacking filtered through mobile phones of West Ham supporters on the train after the match, some of them could be heard muttering that this was the best thing about a day in which West Ham were thoroughly outclassed by the visitors, whose fans taunted the home crowd that they were being defeated by “our second team”.
Watch the highlights below.
December’s punishing fixture list with games coming thick and fast over 48 hour intervals meant that coach Brendan Rodgers made nine changes to Leicester’s starting line up. This meant a start for Kelechi Iheanacho with talisman Jamie Vardy sitting this one out, and Papy Mendy replacing fan favourite Wilfred Ndidi at the base of midfield.
The visiting fans constantly willed Iheanacho to rise to occasion but his touch was usually heavy and he seemed to be lacking a yard of pace, in stark comparison with the fleet-footed and aggressive Vardy. But the Nigerian couldn’t be faulted for effort. His willingness to get in where it hurts won his side a penalty in the ninth minute as he was brought down by goalie Łukasz Fabiański. Gray didn’t look confident as he missed from the spot.
But Iheanacho was determined to make his mark on proceedings as he nodded home from close range a header from Ayoze Perez, with five minutes left before the interval. This sent the travelling support into delirium as they filled the stadium with chants ranging from informing the West Hams fans that “you are going down with the Villa” – fellow strugglers Aston Villa, asking the subdued home crowd “shall we sing our songs for you?” They also reminded the hosts that “you are not West Ham anymore”, in reference to the controversial move from their home in Upton Park to the reconfigured Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
However, just before half time, the struggling home team levelled things with Fornals on the break.
But this was a temporary halt to Leicester’s dominance and they once again took control when Gray made up for his penalty miss after 56 minutes, finishing neatly with a curler from the left of Fabianski’s goal.
Leicester sought to insure their lead by introducing Ndidi for Mendy after 70 minutes and the away stand behind Fabianski’s goal erupted in a chant of “Wilfred Ndidi will take the ball from you”.
Ndidi guaranteed Leicester didn’t slip up, with his usual ball-winning dominance of the space before the back four and simple, but efficient distribution, to cement his team’s second position in the league 10 points behind Liverpool and four points ahead of Manchester City.