You’d be hard pressed to find a Leicester City fan who wouldn’t give the keys to the city and more to Kasper Schmeichel this week. No matter how many times we ask it of him, he keeps producing superb save after superb save. The latest? One in the dying minutes of the game to deny Andy Carroll an equalising goal and seal a 3-2 away win. The Foxes first of the season in the Premier League. The corner looks to have been well and truly turned.
It wasn’t done the easy way, of course. This is Leicester. We seem to find masochistic pleasure in inviting the other team to attack us and riding our luck. Considering we started the second half with a two goal cushion, we did our best to encourage West Ham into it, resulting in a very stressful thirty minutes as a Foxes fan.
The difference being that we managed it. Yes, it’s his job as a goalkeeper to be that extra difference, but we’re lucky to have one quite as good as Schmeichel. It’s been quite a week for the Danish international too. He set a record by becoming the first in Champions League history to save a penalty in both legs and made several vital saves today as well as leading from the back.
Between his saves and Danny Drinkwater clearing one near the line, the Foxes were living dangerously throughout the second half. West Ham fans may rue their chances and feel hard done by. Go back a month or more and we’d likely have crumbled at the first sign of pressure, so it’s true they faced us at the wrong time.
It’s a big three points for the Foxes though. We may not have moved up the table much with this current run, but if we can keep it up, we will. The biggest difference being we look more like ourselves again. Craig Shakespeare’s certainly got that fighting spirit back, enjoying a fantastic run since taking over.
Forced into making a change to the starting eleven, it could have been a worry that captain, Wes Morgan, would miss the game with a slight back problem. It’s not the best timing as he and Robert Huth have started to look a strong partnership again.
It’s also not something Leicester are used to. Morgan’s a mainstay of the team, having played eighty-eight consecutive Premier League games before today. Quite the record, one that should be praised more. Of course having Schmeichel deputised as captain was of no concern, the Dane a ready made replacement. Who would partner Huth was interesting.
We’re somewhat lacking in the centre-back area. We signed just one back in January, Molla Wague who played once and is now out injured until the end of the season. So Shakespeare had two options; Daniel Amartey who put in a good shift in that position for Ghana in January, or Yohan Benalouane, a natural centre-back who’s been unfortunate to have so little game time for us.
Benalouane was preferred, a big chance for him to impress. One that pleasingly, he took! When we have called upon him, he’s been very solid, displaying a professional attitude in between and biding his time. As a side, we perhaps weren’t at our defensive best but he managed to stand out. He was powerful in the air and not afraid to make a tackle.
Essentially helping us not miss what Morgan brings. Perhaps more importantly, his partnership with Huth looked ok. Particularly when it’s a largely untested one. I’d worried initially that we may miss the blocks and crucial things Morgan often delivers, but we didn’t.
A credit to Benalouane. I doubt many would have questioned his desire to play, but his effort to play on with what looked like a broken hand or wrist were impressive. Particularly as we were very much up against it at the time. That was a move that allowed us to bring on an extra defender instead of a swap.
There was another player who has to be singled out. Not least because he’s just twenty; Wilfred Ndidi. The midfielder worked tirelessly for us today. It may not have been in a particularly pretty role, but it was incredibly needed. He chipped in going forwards too, notching himself an assist for our third.
He looked more tired by the end, but he had put in a huge effort midweek for us too and it was still important for him to put his foot in wherever possible. It’d be easy to forget to praise him, a lot of what he did today goes unnoticed in a game like this, but for such a young man, we’ve found ourselves a player with so much potential.
It was a much better first half from Shakespeare’s side. The Foxes started quickly with some free flowing football that led to an early goal, Riyad Mahrez with the long-range effort that put the visitors ahead in the opening five minutes. West Ham will rue that goal, it was a tame shot by Mahrez’s standards but it was important.
We doubled the lead shortly after, some brilliant build-up play before Marc Albrighton demonstrated his worth again, whipping a ball into the box that Huth headed home. It’s been a long time coming this season for the defender, who’s been close numerous times.
Jamie Vardy had already notched an assist from the opening goal, which should finally silence those who kept pointing out how little these two were passing to one another, and got his own goal to restore a two goal cushion after Lanzini had pulled one back for the home side. It was another show of great character and a pleasing half-time result. We knew it may not be smooth sailing in the second half though and our away record ensured all were slightly nervous ahead of it.
Did we string a series of successful passes together in the last thirty minutes? It certainly didn’t feel like it. The second half against Sevilla on Tuesday was tense, but this was more so. Torturous at times. It could have been easier for the Foxes. Vardy had a huge moment to double his tally just before their pressure truly kicked in, but couldn’t chip it over the goalkeeper.
We had another chance late into the game too with substitute Islam Slimani, who saw very little of the ball, the striker probably the first to admit he should have buried it. Still, in the business end of this season, we weren’t left regretting this. It’s a sweet feeling to finally get that away win, and a good way to lead into a two week international break.