Mark Noble fires West Ham to win at Leicester and step closer to safety
The chance to revel in another club’s misery must have felt unusual for West Ham. They have endured a traumatic season but this was a rare moment of gaiety. David Moyes strode on to the pitch to embrace his players at the end and even Andy Carroll, banished from training earlier in the week, could be seen lapping up the acclaim from the jubilant away fans.
West Ham had delivered a passable impression of unity just when a collapse looked possible with Mark Noble’s spectacular effort in the second half securing the win that should ensure their survival and all the discontent belonged to Leicester instead. The King Power Stadium was empty for the home team’s lap of appreciation, almost two years to the day since Leicester lifted the Premier League trophy, and it is impossible not to fear for Claude Puel’s job prospects.
Leicester’s apathy strengthened the theory that they have stopped playing for Claude Puel. The Frenchman has overseen a run of four wins in 19 games and was subjected to mutinous chants from the home fans, who amused themselves with ironic cheers when Christian Fuchs roused Adrián, the visiting goalkeeper, with a shot from long range in the 86th minute. The harsh truth is that West Ham did not have to be spectacular to dominate, even if Moyes was delighted with his side’s response to last Sunday’s chastening defeat to Manchester City.
“I’m really pleased with the performance,” West Ham’s manager said. “It was really good, especially in the first half. More importantly the result was what mattered. The sooner we got a win, the better. We are capable of that. What I’m trying to get is for us to be capable every week.”
With Puel teetering on the brink, West Ham did not dare pass up the opportunity to move six points clear of the bottom three and, when Southampton conceded a late equaliser at Everton, the Hammers’ survival was confirmed. Moyes had complained before the game that a culture of leaks was making his job harder, but this was a time for togetherness and it soon became apparent that the visitors had nothing to fear from their unhappy opponents.
Leicester, missing nine players, struggled to build any positive intent. They relinquished possession with alarming frequency, leaving Jamie Vardy isolated in attack, and they were fortunate when Manuel Lanzini failed to punish a poor clearance from Ben Hamer in the fifth minute.
Hamer would soon be forced to race from his line to deny Marko Arnautovic, whose next contribution was to get in the way of Lanzini’s shot, and Leicester’s lethargy would have shamed a hungover teenager. Puel insisted that he is looking forward to next season but his bosses might have other ideas.
West Ham had control in midfield and, despite starting without an orthodox striker again, the measure of Leicester’s defence. Lanzini and João Mário were full of mischief in their floating roles behind Arnautovic, who settled for creating the opening goal a minute after rattling the bar with a fierce effort.
Arthur Masuaku, an effervescent presence on the left after returning to the starting lineup, swung a deep cross to the far post in the 34th minute and Arnautovic levered himself into position, making space with the slightest of pushes on Fuchs, and pulled the ball back for Mário to finish from close range.
Leicester played with greater intensity at the start of the second half and were enraged when Aaron Cresswell escaped with a booking after stopping Vardy with an intentional handball. Yet they failed to stretch one of the league’s leakiest defences and West Ham should have profited on the break, only for Arnautovic to dither with Lanzini screaming for a pass.
Sensing edginess, Puel replaced Hamza Choudhury and Fousseni Diabaté with Demarai Gray and Kelechi Iheanacho in the 61st minute and Leicester almost equalised when Harry Maguire whistled a shot over from 18 yards.
Yet Arnautovic would soon be placing his hands on his head in disbelief as he watched Noble’s vicious volley from 25 yards swerve to Hamer’s right and nestle in the bottom corner. It was a stunning goal from the midfielder, who showed perfect technique when he met a loose clearance with his right foot, and an audacious way for West Ham to seal a precious victory.