Three talking points as West Ham salvaged a point against Leicester City
David Moyes earnt his first point as manager of West Ham as his new side recovered from an early deficit to secure a hard-fought draw against Leicester City at the London Stadium on Friday evening.
In his first home match since taking over from Slaven Bilic, the ex-Sunderland boss saw his side get off to a nightmare start when Marc Albrighton slotted home Jamie Vardy’s cross after eight minutes.
The visitors had numerous chances to extend their lead before the break, most notably when Vardy cut inside and curled an effort just wide of the far post, but it was the Hammers who struck next when Cheikhou Kouyate headed home from a corner to level things up deep in first-half injury time.
A largely forgettable second-half then went by without much drama, with the main talking point coming courtesy of an Andre Ayew dive inside the penalty area as he looked to deceive the referee.
But Martin Atkinson was unmoved and both sides saw out the remainder of the game to earn a fair share of the spoils – although the Hammers stay in the bottom three of the table on goal difference.
Hammers show signs of fight in Moyes’ London Stadium bow
For the opening half an hour of Friday night’s match, West Ham supporters must have been sat there thinking ‘here we go again’ after Albrighton’s early goal gave the opposition yet another early advantage.
Pablo Zabaleta was dragged too far out of position, allowing Vardy the freedom of the left flank to pick out a Leicester teammate inside the 18-yard box, whilst Angelo Ogbonna’s failed attempt at clearing the ball was in-keeping with the woeful individual defending that’s been all-too evident this campaign.
Yet unlike last weekend when heads dropped after falling behind early against Watford the Hammers seemed to rally and finally show the fight and character that the fans have been crying out for all year.
It was clear that their main approach against Leicester was to pepper balls into the area, with the thought that it’s more than likely that at least one of them would find its way onto a West Ham head.
And the man at the heart of the hosts’ efforts was Marko Arnautovic, the £24million summer signing from Stoke City who has seemed to vastly step up his act in the past two matches under new manager Moyes since the Scotsman gave him the ultimatum of becoming more of a team player or face omission.
The Austrian was exemplary on Friday night, looking to use the width of the London Stadium pitch and provide a regular supply of balls into the box, and it was his dangerous cross from the right that forced Danny Simpson into heading the ball behind for a corner in the lead up to his side’s equaliser.
Yet he showed a defensive side of his game too, making the second-most tackles of any West Ham player, and there was one particularly excellent moment where he tracked back to stop Vardy’s run.
It was all a stark contrast to their previous home outings – the abject defeat against Brighton and the equally demoralising loss to Liverpool – and whilst there are still huge question marks over the Hammers’ defence there were certainly some rare signs of promise for Moyes to now try to build on.
Puel’s regime starting to shine through for Leicester
West Ham aren’t the only side to be adjusting to a managerial change though, with Leicester City still getting accustomed to having Claude Puel at the helm following Craig Shakespeare’s exit in mid-October.
There was a lot of trepidation over the appointment of the ex-Southampton boss but whilst the jury may still be out on Puel he’s made a steady transition in the opening few matches, and his side continued to show signs of their new regime with a number of bright and threatening counter-attacks in the first-half.
A front quartet of Albrighton, Vardy, Demarai Gray and Riyad Mahrez is a tantalising combination and they were regularly given licence to roam before the break, with Vardy making the majority of his runs into the left channel as a deliberate tactic in order to exploit the ageing legs of Pablo Zabaleta.
The Foxes played some excellent football at times, often cutting West Ham apart in just three passes from the back, and if they had found the final ball more they could have been out of sight by half-time.
Whilst the second-half might not have lived up to the first – exemplified by Puel’s early withdrawal of Mahrez – there is certainly reason for optimism about the way Leicester are now playing their football.
Issue of diving set to rumble on after Ayew antics
In a week where simulation in the Premier League has been well and truly in the spotlight, the debate looks set to rattle on after West Ham’s Andre Ayew seemed to dive late on in the match.
The second-half substitute hit the floor with little over ten minutes to go as the Hammers went searching for a late winner – with referee Martin Atkinson not taking any notice despite the Ghana international’s vocal appeals – and replays showed that there was no contact made from Harry Maguire.
Everton forward Oumar Niasse was the first top-flight player to receive retrospective action for simulation, earning a two-match ban, and Ayew’s intention to deceive the referee was the same.
Yet there will be no post-match sanctions for the West Ham man as the penalty wasn’t awarded – as Niasse’s was at Crystal Palace – with the new law stating action can only be taken if the attempted deception was successful in giving that player’s side an advantage, which didn’t occur with Ayew.
It will no doubt open a whole new discussion on whether the intention to con the referee merits punishment whether successful or not, and Ayew can count himself lucky not to be facing a ban.
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