Slimani heads Leicester to vital victory over West Ham

Date published: Saturday 31st December 2016 4:56

Islam Slimani: Celebrates Leicester's opener

Islam Slimani struck the vital winner as champions Leicester battled to a 1-0 win over West Ham at the King Power Stadium to ease their relegation concerns.

The striker’s header sent the Foxes six points clear of the Premier League bottom three with just a second top-flight win since October.

Michail Antonio hit the bar for the Hammers who, despite dominating the second half, failed to find a way through to end their run of three straight wins.

The Foxes finished a year where they won a shock title on a high after a poor first half to the season which has seen them drift dangerously close to the drop zone.

Victory halted West Ham’s rise up the table and Leicester are now just two points behind the Hammers.

Boss Claudio Ranieri had urged his team to give him more and they delivered during a frantic first half before riding out second-half pressure from the visitors.

The recalled Riyad Mahrez forced Darren Randolph into a smart save after just 70 seconds before Slimani wasted a fine opening after four minutes.

Marc Albrighton and Danny Simpson combined to send Albrighton clear and his deep cross was met by Slimani, only for the striker to head against the outside of a post.

The Algeria international, with just two goals in his previous 11 games, should have scored and the Foxes briefly rode their luck when Antonio snatched at chances at the far post.

But Leicester were on top and had rediscovered the intensity which was so badly lacking in their 2-0 defeat to Everton on Boxing Day.

With Mahrez taking up attention behind Slimani, wingers Demarai Gray and Albrighton were given extra space and it was Albrighton who conjured the winner after 20 minutes.

A slick one-touch move saw Danny Drinkwater feed Albrighton on the right and his outstanding first-time delivery looped on to Slimani’s head and the forward gave Randolph no chance from six yards.

It was a lead Leicester deserved and one they almost doubled immediately, but Randolph denied Slimani from point-blank range.

With the threat of the bottom three real, the Foxes went about their business with an efficiency and tenacity which had not been seen enough this season.

Shades of last year’s title triumph shone through as they refused to allow West Ham time, with Gray again impressing on just his third Premier League start of the season.

But, rather than inspire the champions, their efforts roused the visitors, who nearly levelled, Kasper Schmeichel saving from Dimitri Payet and Andre Ayew failing to turn the ball in during the subsequent scramble.

Antonio then came the closest to equalising two minutes before the break when his smart volley from 15 yards rattled the bar.

Schmeichel saved Payet’s free-kick before Randolph was forced to do the same with a Mahrez effort in added time at the end of the half.

The break came at the right time for the Foxes and referee Anthony Taylor, who had begun to lose control with a series of questionable decisions throughout the half.

If the first half was played at breakneck speed, the second failed to live up to expectations as the Hammers tried to fight back.

But, with defences on top, neither side managed to maintain the excitement, with Randolph and Schmeichel under-employed until the Leicester keeper needed to be alert after 67 minutes.

Albrighton brought down Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell’s free kick deflected off Ben Chilwell to force the Dane into a fine low stop on the line.

The Hammers dictated play in the second period, but, with Andy Carroll and Payet misfiring, were too predictable and any attempt to break through was met by comfortable resistance from the Foxes.

When the visitors did threaten, Carroll headed wide with five minutes left before Chilwell and Shinji Okazaki almost made the game safe in injury time.

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