Sli­mani proves worth with price­less header

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE - By John Percy at the King Power Sta­dium

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

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