Hor­rific night which casts foot­ball into per­spec­tive

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By John Percy at King Power Sta­dium

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.

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