Leicester end nine-year stay in the top flight

Ahead of kickoff at the King Power, there was a rather nervous tension in the air – as the Foxes knew that winning their game may not be good enough to secure Premier League safety. Dean Smith’s side simply had to register three points, and hope that Everton slip up at home to Bournemouth.

LEI: Iversen; Thomas, Evans, Faes, Castagne; Dewsbury-Hall, Soumare; Barnes, Tielemans, Maddison; Iheanacho

WHU: Fabianski; Cresswell, Aguerd, Kehrer, Coufal; Downes, Rice; Benhrama, Paqueta, Fornals; Antonio

It was West Ham applying the pressure early on in the Midlands, pressuring the Foxes into committing a mistake as they tread the fine line between euphoria and utter dejection. Lucas Paqueta spurned an effort wide of the post with just over ten minutes played though, much to the relief of the home faithful.

Kelechi Iheanacho had an opportunity to propel Leicester into the lead soon after though, firing home from outside the box – but much like Paqueta’s effort, it sailed wide of the woodwork without really threatening Lukasz Fabianski.

In what was shaping up to be an exciting watch, Pablo Fornals became the next player to squander an excellent chance to take the lead. Moments later, Said Benrahma looked to create a change for Michail Antonio with a lovely cutback pass that capitalised on shoddy defending from the hosts – the Jamaican international blazed over the bar, and the game remained goalless.

Neat interplay inside the box saw Kelechi Iheanacho release Harvey Barnes with a backheeled pass, though the winger’s strike was pounced on by Fabianski. Leicester had certainly turned up the heat, and Iheanacho struck the crossbar following a lovely one-two with James Maddison. The chances didn’t stop coming for the Foxes, as Kieran Dewsbury-Hall’s strike nestled on the roof of the net soon after.

The home fans inside the King Power were sent into a moment of sheer euphoria in the 34th minute, as Harvey Barnes finished off a tidy one-two with a sweet strike from the edge of the box that nestled past the ‘keeper – and as things stood, the Foxes were to remain in the Premier League.

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That seemed to be the catalyst that Dean Smith’s side needed – a flurry of chances ensued as the atmosphere inside the ground ramped up. Maddison blasted an effort wide from distance, but for the first time in months, Leicester fans could sense that they would remain in the top flight. Despite the best efforts of the players, the Foxes were unable to extend their lead before the break, and headed down the tunnel with a slender one-goal lead. That would still be enough if they could hold on though, as the Everton v Bournemouth match remained a goalless draw at the interval.

Much like in the first half, it was the visitors that started strongest as play resumed. An early corner could have seen the game levelled, as Jonny Evans’ misplaced header flew a few inches wide of his own goal – which would change the landscape of this entire relegation battle with less than an hour to play.

But alas, news soon broke that with 57 minutes on the clock at Goodison Road, Everton had taken the lead against Bournemouth courtesy of Abdoulaye Doucoure. With their fate lying in the hands of Bournemouth, all the Foxes could do was pray that the Cherries rescued at least a draw. Leicester seemed shaky as the news filtered around the ground – almost conceding as Said Benrahma struck the post with a curling effort.

That shakiness didn’t last long though, and the Foxes appeared to have put the game to bed with 62 minutes on the clock as Wout Faes bagged their second goal of the afternoon, heading home from Youri Tielemans’ free-kick delivery. The celebrations were muted though, as unless Everton conceded at least a goal, Leicester would still be heading to the second tier.

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Yet with little more than ten minutes still to play, Pablo Fornals ignited hopes of a West Ham comeback as he cut inside from the flank before hammering a shot past Iversen. Leicester simply had to hold on to their win – but as Everton still held the lead on Merseyside, they were set to be condemned to a season in the Championship.

The six minutes added on at the King Power Stadium wouldn’t be enough to confirm the club’s status, and the fans would have to hold on for the ten additional minutes at Goodison Park to learn of their league next season. Pablo Fornals came close to equalising and ending all hopes of survival – but the Foxes were able to hold on and pick up all three points.

The following four minutes were nail-biting for the home faithful, and despite holding on for a win at the King Power Stadium, Leicester’s successful spell in the Premier League has come to an end after an utterly disappointing season. The club will now surely need to rebuild and learn to adapt, with the majority of first-team players set to seek moves elsewhere. They’ll travel to Asia for a pre-season tournament before playing their first game of the Championship season.

As for West Ham, their attention now turns to the UEFA Europa Conference League final in Prague. David Moyes’ side have had far from the perfect season domestically, but silverware in Europe would ensure that they still qualify for the Europa League next year. Fiorentina stand in their way.

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