Prague on the mind for West Ham as David Moyes’ side fail to match desperation of Leicester

West Ham’s Premier League season ended in defeat  (PA)
West Ham’s Premier League season ended in defeat (PA)

The scarf sellers here at the King Power Stadium did not miss a trick, posting up near the away entrance having ordered in some extra stock from the Europa Conference League final collection.

Shrewd business sense had clearly told them that West Ham thoughts and focus have been on Prague and next month’s showpiece against Fiorentina ever since the semi-final win over AZ Alkmaar a week-and-a-half ago. On the final day of this marathon Premier League season it showed, as the Hammers were beaten 2-1 by a Leicester side playing with the contrasting incentive of avoiding relegation, though Everton’s victory at home to Bournemouth rendered the result here irrelevant, a club that won this division only seven years ago on their way out of it anyway.

If the result did nothing, in the end, to aid Leicester’s cause, it did little to dampen what effectively turned into a pre-Prague party among the travelling support, who enjoyed sending their opponents on their way to the Championship, with a request to deliver kind regards to Millwall.

David Moyes made six changes to his starting lineup, Jarrod Bowen, Kurt Zouma and Tomas Soucek among those not risked from the off, but plenty of those with key roles to play in that historic final in ten days’ time, including Declan Rice and Michail Antonio, were still sent out, the manager keen to strike a balance between maintaining momentum and freshening up the legs.

Rice has only one setting and played with all his usual ferocity, crunching into tackles and eventually playing all 90 minutes of his likely Premier League farewell as Moyes declined the chance to give his captain a breather with any of his five substitutions.

Generally, though, West Ham failed to match the intensity and desperation of Dean Smith’s side, who were roared on by a defiant home crowd that on several occasions even delivered the phantom boost of non-existent Bournemouth goals at Goodison Park.

Both of the home side’s genuine ones here summed up the difference in motivation between the teams, the first scored by the electric Harvey Barnes, who burst past a static Hammers backline to get on the end of Kelechi Iheanacho’s superb return pass and beat Lukasz Fabianski. Barnes has been linked with a move to the London Stadium and along with the likes of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans will surely be back in the top flight regardless next term.

After the break, the Hammers’ worrying recent vulnerability at set-pieces resurfaced, as Wout Faes showed most desire to get on the end of Tielemans’ free-kick.

That ought to trouble Moyes with a view to the club’s first major European final in 47 years, where a lack of motivation will certainly be no issue, and so too will some of his team’s finishing here, Antonio wasting the two best chances of the first half and then Danny Ings blazing over from close range soon after replacing the Jamaican.

In the end, it was Pablo Fornals, the hero of Alkmaar, who halved the deficit, continuing his fine late season form with a smart near-post finish to give Moyes further food for thought as he weighs up whether to start with the Spaniard or Said Benrahma against Fiorentina.