CITY 1 WEST HAM 1
We delayed publishing this match report and any match related articles until we knew the players were ready to take to the pitch again which was confirmed when the Cardiff game was given the go-ahead.
Report by Eddie Blount
In the recent past City have had trouble with West Ham at the King Power and this match was no exception to that trend. Given that the Hammers were several players short of their best side, including top scorer Arnautovic, this was surely a great opportunity to get this monkey off their back and in so doing keep City in contention for the Europa League places.
In truth apart from the opening minutes City never looked as though they might win this game hampered by a combination of mediocre play and bad luck.
Puel, once again the subject of speculation about his future at the club, bravely – or foolishly depending on your viewpoint – rang the changes omitting Vardy, Mendy and Evans for Albrighton, Iborra and Soyuncu, the latter making his debut.
The initial omens were good as Albrighton, my Man of the Match incidentally, produced a stream of dangerous crosses which seriously tested the Hammers’ defence but this did not last as the game became more even and City’s performance started to lag. The ball was given away with depressing frequency and when it wasn’t we were falling offside. I cannot remember the last time we were caught offside on so many occasions, well into double figures it seemed.
On the first of these Iheanacho finished with great skill but replays showed he was a yard the wrong side. City seemed obsessed with one-touch football, attempting difficult passes without having the ball under control and usually surrounded by the opposition. The outcome was predictable and irritating. We must learn that there is a time and a place for getting the ball moved on quickly but it is not the only option.
West Ham showed there is a place for players who carry the ball and run at defenders with others running into space to provide options for the final pass. So we had the majority possession they looked the more likely to score!
And so it came to pass! A free kick in a dangerous position was generously awarded by referee Oliver and led to a training-ground routine which delivered a classic sucker-punch. City failed to defend the ball across their goal which was headed back across the six-yard box to the completely unmarked Balbuena. He could not miss but somehow managed to hit the inside of the post. Schmeichel gave it up and was therefore too slow to react when the ball rebounded merely deflecting it to Balbuena who again could not miss and didn’t! The City defending was shambolic.
I have my doubts that in normal circumstances City would have come back from this setback and West Ham may well have repeated last year’s 2-0 scoreline. However fate intervened in City’s favour. Noble overran the ball in midfield and over-stretched as players do in these circumstances. He seemed to try to pull out of the tackle but his studs still caught Ndidi’s shin. Nobody got excited but Oliver immediately showed Noble the red card to general surprise bordering on amazement. This definitely handed City a lifeline and the game immediately became one-sided. Iborra should have scored with a clear header from a freekick but half time came with City no closer to parity
The second half was a succession of City attacks punctuated by very occasional forays by West Ham. These inevitably looked more dangerous than City’s attacks as we pushed far more men forward. Vardy came on immediately and was soon followed by Gray returning from injury and looking a threat. Chances were few as the Hammers defended well and we failed to get enough men in the box when attacking.
Ironic this – we managed not to have as many men as we needed both forward and at the back! -though we dominated midfield! Maguire who had a fine game headed against the top of the bar, Maddison shot over, Vardy headed over when he should have scored, Albrighton had a thunderous volley well saved by Fabianski who also saved well in blocking Vardy’s cross-shot
Just as it seemed it was not to be City equalised! Friends had been discussing the number of shots Ndidi has had since he last scored – well into the sixties apparently. They obviously knew something I didn’t as in the 89th minute Ndidi shot from just outside the box, the ball deflected significantly off a defender and flew unstoppably into Fabianski’s top right corner. Cue relief more than pandemonium. Research showed that the unfortunate defender was…..Balbuena (I should have guessed)
Immediately West Ham took advantage of our pouring men forward to launch a four against two break away, the ball finishing in the crowd when it should have been in the net – a huge let-off. Worse was to come when another breakaway led to Amartey being badly injured and carried off with a suspected broken leg
The final whistle was greeted with virtual silence by both sets of fans and a great sense of frustration hung in the air
My verdict on Soyuncu? Definitely a David Luiz look-alike and not far off a play-alike. He is comfortable on the ball, not afraid to tackle and carries the ball forward in the modern style. However he was booked for a series of fouls, tried after that to deliberately bring a player down but failed and immediately afterwards fell in a tangled heap with an opponent. Puel rightly took him off! Definitely not the finished article at this level
Finally all this is put into perspective by the tragic accident which was to follow the game.
City: Schmeichel, Amartey, Maguire, Soyuncu (Okazaki 80), Chilwell, Ndidi, Iborra, Ghezzal (Vardy 45), Maddison, Albrighton, Iheanacho (Gray 61),
West Ham: Fabianski, Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku, Rice, Anderson (Ogbonna 81), Noble, Snodgrass, Diangana (Cresswell 75), Hernandez (Antonio 61)
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation