World Cup break welcome for West Ham as poor run amid gruelling schedule leaves spirits low

West Ham have lost their last three Premier League matches  (Action Images via Reuters)
West Ham have lost their last three Premier League matches (Action Images via Reuters)

There were always likely to be victims of this season’s relentless - frankly, ridiculous - schedule and after a chaotic game at the London Stadium, in the end, it turned out that West Ham were the chief example on show.

For much of the afternoon, it seemed more likely that James Maddison would fill that role, the Premier League’s in-form midfielder forced off injured before half-time only 48 hours after earning a surprise but deserved World Cup call-up.

With just nine days until the England’s opener against Iran, it was yet another reminder of the tightrope elite players are being made to walk, but thankfully Brendan Rodgers confirmed after the final whistle his withdrawal had been precautionary.

And so, the full spotlight could turn onto the Irons, who have now lost four in five in the Premier League at the end of a gruelling, months-long slog of games every three or four days. They will have six weeks to stew on their slump and some of the many Hammers fans who left the London Stadium early would happily see David Moyes gone by then.

Fittingly (?), ironically (?), who knows (?), it was Maddison’s effort that started West Ham’s misery here, the 25-year-old’s seventh League goal of the season opening the scoring before Harvey Barnes late clincher earned Leicester a 2-0 win that leaves Moyes’ men just one point clear of the drop at Christmas.

It came after just eight minutes, and with a degree of inevitability; Maddison started a fine move with a wonderful flick in midfield, then had destiny pulling the ball back towards him as Patson Daka scuffed Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s low cross when well-placed, instead sending it trickling towards the back-post where his teammate was waiting to convert.

Fate, though, seemed to desert Maddison midway through the half, when he went down off the ball on halfway. A chorus of “England’s No10” accompanied him as he was able to walk unaided from the field and when he returned to watch the second half from the substitutes’ bench in good spirits, immediate fears were calmed.

By then, West Ham were already dealing with injury problems of their own. Kurt Zouma had exited the warm-up early, then been deemed fit to start, but lasted only 14 minutes before succumbing and prompting a Premier League debut for summer signing Nayef Aguerd. Declan Rice, too, had had the physio on but thankfully from an England perspective, a speck of dust in the eye has never ruled anyone out of a major tournament.

West Ham grew into the game, Jarrod Bowen, perhaps one of those alluded to by Gareth Southgate when he spoke of an unofficial standby list, suddenly perking up.

There was brief worry when Declan Rice required treatment, though it proved not to be serious (Getty Images)
There was brief worry when Declan Rice required treatment, though it proved not to be serious (Getty Images)

The winger saw an effort deflected over the bar, then teed-up a Tomas Soucek strike that found the bottom corner but was rightly chalked for offside.

Lucas Paqueta went close twice with headers on a day when his feet did nothing but surrender possession, but as the Irons threatened a leveller they very nearly gifted Leicester breathing space.

Craig Dawson, usually so solid but culpable in the defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend and again here, made a hash of dealing with Daka, first underestimating the forward’s pace and strength, and then diving in in a bid to make amends. Referee Jarred Gillett deemed the tackle fair in real-time but one of the swifter VAR checks revealed his mistake.

Youri Tielemans, one of three in Leicester’s starting XI in Belgium’s World Cup squad, stepped up but Fabianski guessed right, picking up his wonderful penalty record after saving four out of six in the League last season.

It felt a significant moment in the Irons’ season, a platform from which to kick on and launch the comeback that would have lifted spirits ahead of the break. They were the better side again after the break, but were undone on the counter, substitute Ayoze Perez releasing Barnes who slid under Fabianski to prompt a mass exodus among the home fans.

They are not due back at the London Stadium until Brentford visit on December 30, which given the mood around the place right now, may be for the best.