West Ham United ended the 2022/23 Premier League season in fourteenth place in the table and David Moyes suffered his first defeat to Dean Smith as the Hammers lost 2-1 to Leicester City at The King Power Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The visitors clearly had the UEFA Europa Conference League final on their minds and Moyes understandably made six changes for this match, as Nayef Aguerd, Thilo Kehrer, Flynn Downes, Aaron Cresswell, Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio replaced Kurt Zouma, Angelo Ogbonna, Emmerson Palmieri, Tomáš Souček, Jarrod Bowen and Danny Ings, who all dropped to the bench.
The Foxes needed to win and hope for a favour from AFC Bournemouth at Everton to ensure another season of top-flight football. Having said that, the Irons confirmed their safety last week in a 3-1 home win against Leeds United but they still wanted to claim a victory here in order to give them confidence ahead of the meeting with ACF Fiorentina in Prague.
West Ham made the first move of the encounter when Antonio sent a shot goalwards but unfortunately for the travelling support, it was easily dealt with by home goalkeeper Daniel Iversen.
The East Londoners kept the pressure up and Vladimír Coufal played a ball out to Pablo Fornals. Although the Spaniard tried his luck, he was unable to hit the target.
Once the home side had got into their rhythm, they then started to look more threatening. Youri Tielemans set up Kelechi Iheanacho and the striker in turn found Harvey Barnes but his attempt was gathered by Łukasz Fabiański.
Minutes later, Iheanacho was in on goal again after gaining the ball from James Maddison. He decided to go for goal and didn’t miss by much, as his venomous attempt clipped the crossbar.
Smith’s men then had nerves jangling at Goodison Park, as his side took the lead on thirty four minutes. Barnes and Iheanacho linked up again to evade the attentions of Downes and the frontman kept his cool and slotted the ball past Fabiański.
From then on, it was the hosts who looked like they were going to build on that advantage going into the break but they couldn’t do so and referee Simon Hooper brought the first-half to a close.
Pressure was being applied by both sides when the action restarted and West Ham nearly equalised, as they were awarded a corner and Cresswell’s delivery was almost diverted into the net by Foxes’ Captain Johnny Evans but there was relief for the Leicester skipper when the ball went just past the post.
Smith’s men took a while to get a foothold in the second-half and the Irons were presented with another chance to level matters but unfortunately, Benrahma hit the post.
Moyes’ men were frustrated about the fact that the ball didn’t beat Iversen because three minutes later, Wout Faes doubled the Foxes’ advantage when he had the easiest of finishes, heading past Fabiański.
The Hammers’ boss immediately responded by making a double change. Antonio and Benrahma made way for Ings and Bowen. The manager’s alterations nearly worked as the newly introduced pair took just seven minutes to link up while also bringing Lucas Paquetá into play. The Brazilian played a great ball into Bowen’s path and he tested Iversen but the Danish stopper was equal to the effort and he beat it away. However, the East Londoners were unable to convert the rebound.
Both managers made changes with just under twenty minutes to play. Smith took off Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and threw on Nampalys Mendy, while Maxwel Cornet and Palmieri entered the fray for Cresswell and Paquetá.
Minutes later, those in the away end finally had something to celebrate when Ings found Fornals and he sent the ball past Iversen via the post.
West Ham had time to level the scores and even introduced Manuel Lanzini in place of Downes but every chance they had was passed up.
Six minutes of stoppage time were signalled at the end of normal time but Leicester still had to wait for news from Merseyside which would determine their fate, as Everton were having to play a further ten minutes.
In the end, it was to no avail, as the Hammers were beaten, whilst Gary O’Neill’s side couldn’t find that elusive equaliser to help the home side here.
The Premier League season may be over but the Irons still have one key game to play on June 7!!!