Horrific night which casts football into perspective
Until around 8.38pm yesterday evening, it is unlikely the 31,848 fans who had descended on the Kingpower Sta- dium would ever have remembered this night.
A red card for Mark Noble, a horrible injury for Daniel Amartey, a late equaliser by Wilfred Ndidi – these are all dramatic in the context of football, but far less so in life.
True perspective only came with the dreadful news of the crash involving Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter in a staff car park minutes after the final whistle, a tragedy which has left a city and a football club in shock.
With so few details emerging in the immediate aftermath of the accident, it is too early to start wondering where last night’s events leave the club both in the short and the long-term, although the ramifications – if the worst initial fears are confirmed – will clearly be seismic.
Wounds will be raw for some time, but what is certain is that the football community will rally around one of its stricken clubs. One of the striking aspects of such tragedies is how quickly the partisanship and tribal loyalties which fuel the game evaporate.
It happened with Chelsea when a helicopter carrying their vice-chairman Matthew Harding crashed, killing him, the pilot and three other passengers, on the way back from a game at Bolton Wanderers 22 years ago this week.
It will happen with Leicester, too, and they will need all that support from football and beyond in the coming days and weeks.
In the context of what followed, it seems wrong to dwell on what happened on the field, and yet history will record that a match did take place here, with Ndidi’s deflected strike a minute from time prevented a fifth defeat in seven Premier League games.
Fabian Balbuena’s goal had given West Ham the lead but the fifth red card of Noble’s career sentenced Manuel Pellegrini’s men to 55 minutes with only 10 men.
Yet the visitors still appeared on course to secure an unlikely win until Ndidi’s shot struck the back of Balbuena in the final minutes to finally beat the outstanding Lukasz Fabianski.
Leicester were saved, though there was still an unfortunate incident in added time when defender Daniel Amartey was carried off with a suspected broken leg after catching his studs in the turf.
For Puel, the decision to drop Jamie Vardy, plus £19million signing Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans and Nampalys Mendy had looked either brave or risky. Vardy had only touched the ball 11 times in the 3-1 defeat at Arsenal and is struggling to make an impact under Puel’s possession-based approach.
Leicester did start brightly, forcing West Ham into a succession of mistakes and it seemed as if Puel’s team selection would not be an issue.
They could not sustain their early promise, though, and that is why doubts persist among fans that Puel can take the club forward.
West Ham were without the unwell Marko Arnautovic but gradually exerted pressure and the opening goal had a touch of inevitability.
It came in the 31st minute after a free-kick routine straight off the Rush Green training ground. Felipe Anderson’s set-piece was directed across goal by Declan Rice and though Balbuena headed the ball against a post he was allowed easily to put away the rebound.
The turning point came seven minutes before half-time, as West Ham prepared to break on the counterattack. Noble lost possession and then lunged in on Ndidi, studs up. Red card.
Leicester were dominant in the second half, with Vardy on the pitch, yet Fabianski was outstanding in goal, pushing away Marc Albrighton’s volley before claiming the winger’s second effort. Harry Maguire headed a James Maddison corner on to the top of his bar.
West Ham defended brilliantly at times, but Leicester’s pressure finally paid off in the 89th minute when Ndidi’s shot arced into the corner, with Fabianski rooted to the spot.
In the immediate aftermath, Puel had been asked by reporters gathered
in the club’s media centre about his decision to drop Vardy, whose relationship with the manager has been under strain for some time. “I don’t know why it is a problem,” he said. “I wanted him to come on in the second half to win the game. I have to manage his physical being and protect him.”
At the time, it felt like a significant issue, something that would dominate discussion around Leicester for days.
If only it had.