Slimani proves worth with priceless header
Leicester City’s summer recruitment continues to polarise opinion but Islam Slimani is proving he was worth the huge outlay.
His sixth goal since a £28 million move from Sporting Lisbon secured the Premier League champions a crucial victory and moved Claudio Ranieri away from the dreaded dotted line.
In a bad-tempered, nervy encounter, Leicester also recorded their first clean sheet in 12 league games but it was Slimani’s textbook header that ended a peculiar year on a high note.
He was the only summer signing to start at the King Power Stadium, and Leicester’s recruitment since winning the league remains a hot topic as we all search for the reasons behind their troubled title defence.
Yet Slimani’s 20th-minute header will ease the tension and allows Ranieri to focus on avoiding the unthinkable – relegation to the Championship.
“It’s been an amazing, unforgettable year. Of course, 2016 will remain in our hearts and minds,” said Ranieri.
“It was something special, and it was special to win against a team with a lot of confidence.
“I’m very happy with the clean sheet. I think this year will remain in our minds until we die.”
This time last year Leicester were joint leaders and halfway towards writing a stunning fairy tale, but this campaign has been strewn with problems.
After the Boxing Day defeat to Everton, Ranieri warned this was a “mustwin” and it set the tone for a dominant first-half performance.
Riyad Mahrez tested goalkeeper Darren Randolph after just 64 seconds, while Slimani headed a Marc Albrighton cross against the post. And they took the lead in the 20th minute, after Slimani rose to head Albrighton’s cross powerfully past Randolph.
But West Ham did recover and should have gone in level at half-time.
Dimitri Payet was denied by Kasper Schmeichel from close range before Michail Antonio struck the crossbar with a fine shot on the turn.
West Ham suffered the departure of captain Mark Noble early in the second half but were a threat going forward, forcing some desperate defending from Leicester.
Schmeichel was again required in the 68th minute to prevent Aaron Cresswell’s deflected free-kick from squirming over the line.
Havard Nordtveit was then fortunate to escape with a booking after appearing to catch Ben Chilwell in the stom- ach with his studs.
It was an unbearable end to the game for Leicester – with six minutes of added time – but they clung on to register their fifth win of the season.
Slaven Bilic, the West Ham manager, said: “I’m very disappointed, angry and frustrated that we lost.”
Target man: Islam Slimani scores