Late penalty not enough to seal Foxes’ future

Knowing that they could secure their top-flight status for another season with a win, Willie Kirk’s Leicester City side welcomed West Ham to the King Power Stadium on Sunday. The Hammers were already mathematically safe from the threat of relegation, and the Foxes would look to join them after Reading’s loss to Tottenham on Saturday.

LEI: Leitzig; Nevin, Plumptre, Howard, Bott; Tierney, Mace, Whelan; Jones, Cain, Siemsen

WHU: Arnold; Tysiak, Parker, Fisk, Shimizu; Hayashi, Brynjarsdottir; Denton, Snerle, Asseyi; Thestrup

The game took a while to truly get going, as the action was disrupted early on by malfunctioning sprinklers. Hannah Cain’s efforts to push them back into the ground were unsuccessful – but eventually play got underway.

The Foxes started as the brighter of the two sides, and CJ Bott looked to punish the visitors as she surged down the right flank. The New Zealand international couldn’t get her cross off though, with the ball trickling out of play.

And yet it was West Ham that took the lead after 18 minutes from their first real chance. Anouk Denton’s cross flew over the head of Janina Leitzig, before Sophie Howard turned it into her own net to give Willie Kirk’s side a mountain to climb if they were to seal their top-flight status.

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As they have shown in numerous games recently, the Foxes’ determination didn’t falter and CJ Bott was quick to test Mackenzie Arnold – the ‘keeper was able to push it wide of the post for a corner. In fact, Arnold was arguably the busiest player on the pitch, making another great save as Hannah Cain rose highest to nod Ruby Mace’s cross towards goal.

Viviane Asseyi looked to double West Ham’s advantage, cutting inside from the left wing before unleashing a strike that forced Janina Leitzig into action. The Bayern Munich loanee has been impressive throughout her stint at Leicester, and she was able to make the save with relative ease.

Six minutes of added time at the end of the first half gave Leicester a few final chances to level the game before the break, but Carrie Jones’ effort was directed straight into the arms of the West Ham shotstopper.

Ruby Mace could have equalised after the break, though the Manchester City loanee sent her volley well over the crossbar as the Foxes squandered yet another chance to equalise. They had lacked the finishing touch, and it looked as if West Ham were going to make them pay the price.

Dagny Brynjarsdottir doubled West Ham’s advantage with an hour on the clock, firing home from the penalty spot after Sophie Howard handled the ball inside the area. It had certainly been a game to forget for the defender!

The hosts were quick to push forward again though, but Aileen Whelan’s close-range strike could only find the crossbar. Carrie Jones looked to set up Shannon O’Brien as the game drew to a close, though her effort was placed wide of the post.

Nine minutes of additional time at the end of the second half gave the home fans inside the King Power Stadium a glimmer of hope – until Ruby Mace was dismissed. Having picked up a yellow card at the end of the first half for a challenge on Emma Snerle, a second yellow signalled the end of the game – and the end of the season – for the midfielder.

There would be one last chance for the hosts to spark a late comeback, as Mackenzie Arnold took out Aileen Whelan inside the penalty area with 99 minutes on the clock. Hannah Cain converted from the spot, but it would be nothing more than a consolation as the final whistle rang out soon after.

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The Foxes’ battle to retain their top-flight status will go down to the final matchday, as they face a trip to Brighton on Saturday. However, the result will be irrelevant if Reading lose to Chelsea – as that would be enough to extend Leicester’s WSL stay.