This is our nineteenth Premier League match, and at the end of the game we will have reached the mid-point of the league season. A season that we started poorly, but one where our results have picked up in recent weeks. Leicester were, of course, the very unlikely (5000-1) winners of the Premier League last season, but this has been a much tougher campaign for them. Who would have thought that, despite some of our relatively indifferent performances, we would be sitting above last season’s champions at the half-way point in the season?
The last time we played at Leicester was when we visited them in April. Despite being one down at half time to a goal from Vardy we fought back in the second half (after our old friend Mr Moss had reduced Leicester to ten men by sending Vardy off for diving). Carroll scored from a penalty (Noble had already been substituted when it was awarded), and then Cresswell hit a superb strike to put us 2-1 ahead. It was quite simple now, wasn’t it? 2-1 up, 11 playing against 10, we were about to record yet another famous victory away from home against a top side. Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton – none of them could beat us on their own ground, and we had recorded four wins and two draws against those six teams. Now we were about to beat the champions elect.
But hold on a minute. This is West Ham we are talking about. We have to expect the unexpected. Mr. Moss had indicated that there would be a minimum of four minutes to be added. With around 20 seconds of the four minutes remaining the ball broke to Valencia. It should have been easy to run down the clock, shouldn’t it? But oh no, Valencia lost possession, and with 3 minutes 56 seconds showing on the injury time clock, Carroll innocuously brushed against a Leicester player on the edge of the area.
Of course, referees never give decisions to even up potential mistakes that have made earlier in a game, or to try to appease the home supporters, so Mr. Moss must have been absolutely certain that a foul had been committed and duly awarded Leicester a penalty in the dying seconds. Of course, the same referee had “previous” in this respect, giving Tottenham a penalty in the fifth minute of injury time the previous season, allowing them to draw 2-2 against us. I guess the biggest disappointment for me was our inability to hold on to a lead, something we have been guilty of several times this season, too.
Despite their indifferent league form, Leicester comfortably (and surprisingly?) have reached the last 16 of the Champions League, which is no mean feat. But in their attempt to retain their title, they currently sit in sixteenth place in the league on 17 points, just three points above the drop zone, and trailing us by five points. They have won just four league games, beating three teams that we have also beaten, Swansea, Burnley and Palace, in addition to what was arguably their best performance of the season, a 4-2 victory over Manchester City, where at one stage they led by four goals, before conceding twice in the last ten minutes.
We have a very good record in games against Leicester, and in our last 41 league meetings they have only beaten us on nine occasions, with six games ending as draws. I fancy us to extend our good run with another victory, to set us up nicely for an improved second half of the season. 25 points from 19 games seemed an unthinkable proposition just a month ago. A victory in this game will bring us up to that level. What are the chances?