Leicester relegated from Premier League despite victory over West Ham

<span>Photograph: Paul Currie/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Paul Currie/Shutterstock

For Leicester City, never has a win felt so utterly crushing. Victory over West Ham on the final day of the season was insufficient to avoid relegation to the Championship, seven years on from lifting the Premier League title here, six on from reaching the Champions League quarter-finals and two on from winning the FA Cup.

A bereft James Maddison, among those set to depart, crouched on the grass at the final whistle and Leicester’s players huddled around the phone of Victor Kristiansen, who was not in the squad, praying for a late twist in their favour as stoppage time continued at Goodison Park. A couple of fans had radios glued to their ears in hope of a swing that was not forthcoming.

Twenty-four hours earlier Leicester’s women avoided relegation on the final day of the Women’s Super League season but a repeat proved wishful thinking. “Come on Bournemouth,” was the desperate chant from the Leicester fans.

Related: Everton seal Premier League survival as Doucouré screamer sinks Bournemouth

During the game there were a couple of false alarms, moments whereby the anxious home support thought Bournemouth had scored at Everton, but Leicester’s nine-year top-flight stay was up. Confirmation brought a mixture of jeers and cheers and the players orbited the centre circle applauding downbeat fans. Youri Tielemans, among eight players out of contract this summer, waved goodbye before trudging down the tunnel. “Say hello to Millwall,” came the sarcastic chant from the West Ham supporters looking forward to a Europa Conference League final in Prague next month.

Things had all been going so well for Leicester until news of Abdoulaye Doucouré’s goal for Everton filtered through here. Harvey Barnes’s fine first-half goal paved the way to victory but suddenly a revved-up crowd was decidedly flat, silenced as reality set in. A couple of minutes later Saïd Benrahma rattled a post and any hope of a late, great escape was nearly all over there and then. The beaming smile on the face of Wout Faes after the defender headed in a Tielemans free-kick to double Leicester’s lead felt somewhat cruel. Who was going to tell him?

A few minutes before kick-off, the unmistakable sound of the bugle as Paul Hing performed the post-horn gallop he has played on Filbert Street for the past 14 years. Then the Premier League’s psychedelic pre-match anthem kicked in. It remains to be seen when it will be heard again here. A Leicester win was imperative if they were to have any chance of overhauling Everton. Dean Smith, who took charge with seven weeks and eight games remaining, laboured the point that Leicester had to focus on doing their bit, and they did. But the galling thing was that it was not enough.

In recent weeks there has been an air of resignation among Leicester supporters. And who can really blame them? They had won one of their previous 16 matches. But Smith pointed to Monday’s draw at Newcastle, in which they kept a first clean sheet in the league since November, as character-building. That result also ensured Leicester started the final day above Leeds in the table. Nevertheless, safety was always out of their hands. “The odds may be against us, but we’ve overcome the odds before,” the Leicester chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, said in his programme notes.

Leicester had a few nearly moments before seizing the lead through Barnes. Kelechi Iheanacho, preferred to Jamie Vardy in attack, pulled a shot wide after Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s shot pinballed off Vladimir Coufal and then Nayef Aguerd. Soon after Aguerd was alert to steal the ball from Iheanacho after the striker collected Jonny Evans’s arcing diagonal pass. Iheanacho was busy and he grazed the woodwork approaching the half-hour. Iheanacho plucked Barnes’s cross out of the air, collected a one-two off Maddison and clipped the top of the crossbar.

Iheanacho looked to the skies in frustration but six minutes later every outfield player ran to a corner of this bouncing stadium to celebrate Barnes’s brilliantly taken goal. Barnes burned down the left flank and then punched a pass into Iheanacho, who had pinned Thilo Kehrer, one of six changes made by David Moyes. Barnes did not stop there and carried on into the box, ghosting past Flynn Downes and Iheanacho cleverly slipped his teammate in with a first‑time pass. Barnes composed himself before steering a shot into the far pocket of Lukasz Fabianski’s goal.

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Declan Rice again captained West Ham, with Moyes resisting any temptation to rest his star man. “I thought he played great, he put in another swashbuckling-type performance,” Moyes said. “I have been really pleased with how well he’s played over the season, he’s been exceptional the way he’s played and the way he’s conducted himself. Now he’s got the big moment to see if he can lift a trophy for West Ham, he needs to try and get ready and see how that looks.”

The sight of Daniel Iversen claiming a dangerous Aaron Cresswell in-swinging corner, moments after Evans came close to scoring an own goal from one, was greeted by rapturous applause from the home support.

The West Ham substitute Danny Ings should have got the visitors on the scoreboard before Pablo Fornals fired a shot past Iversen in off a post but this was an afternoon when the result turned out to be immaterial. Leicester emerged for the second half to a hero’s welcome but there was an altogether different, more sombre mood at the final whistle.