Leicester City 2 – 1 West Ham United. Leicester City’s nine-year stay in the Premier League came to an end as they were relegated in agonising fashion despite beating West Ham on the final day of the season.
The Foxes’ fate was out of their hands heading into the last round of fixtures, and Everton’s 1-0 victory over Bournemouth meant the 2015-16 winners slipped into the Championship by two points.
While Toffees fans were in ecstasy at Goodison Park, Leicester supporters at the King Power were left to rue a miserable campaign in which they won only nine league matches.
Interim boss Dean Smith said it was a “massive disappointment”.
“I can only look at my seven weeks and eight games,” he said. “I always felt coming in it was going to be tough. The confidence and belief was low.
“I felt we would need 11 points to stay up, it turned out to be 11 but we only got nine. In that regard, I have failed.”
Knowing they needed a win to have any chance of staying up, Leicester went close early on when Kelechi Iheanacho exchanged passes with James Maddison before clipping the crossbar with a vicious, curling effort.
The hosts did break the deadlock through Harvey Barnes’ cool finish from Iheanacho’s pass to lead at half-time, and at that stage they were staying up on goal difference.
Jonny Evans almost headed into his own net in a nerve-jangling second half, but the stadium was silenced when word filtered through about Everton scoring.
Said Benrahma struck a delightful curling effort against the post for the visitors, before Wout Faes headed in Leicester’s second goal.
Pablo Fornals pulled a goal back by stabbing in via the post as the Hammers finished 14th, six points clear of the relegation zone.
Leicester’s game finished before Everton’s, which meant the Foxes players had to wait on the pitch for confirmation to come through that they were relegated.
Some huddled around defender Victor Kristiansen’s phone, but any glimmer of hope was extinguished when the full-time whistle blew at Goodison.
Many of the crowd jeered, but some did afford their players a generous ovation when they applauded the fans before heading down the tunnel and out of the top flight.
Leicester have been the architects of their own downfall, ending a wretched season with just three wins from their final 17 games and keeping just one clean sheet since November.
Smith’s mandate when he was appointed in April was to preserve the status of a side that were shock champions only seven years ago, but nine points from his eight games in charge was simply not enough.
And that means relegation to the Championship just six years after they reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Smith said he would speak to chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha in the next couple of days.
“The time and effort he puts in to the football is there to see,” he said. “I am not thinking about my future at the moment. It is raw getting relegated and I will go and reflect on it.
“The raw materials are of an elite club. It feels raw, it hurts, but with the infrastructure it will bounce back. You have to improve on the things that let you down and I have no doubts the players will.”
Barnes’ delightful finish and a 1-0 half-time lead gave the Foxes optimism they may just stay alive.
But after Everton took the lead through Abdoulaye Doucoure’s brilliant strike, Faes’ goal mattered little as Bournemouth could not find a way through.
Leicester supporters did break out into cheers on a number of occasions as news spread of a Cherries ‘equaliser’ – but each time it was a false dawn.
A summer of upheaval follows for the Foxes, with Maddison and Barnes the most sellable assets, and seven players and manager Smith out of contract.
West Ham supporters were in fine voice throughout the game, knowing Premier League football was secure for another year, and they have a European final to look forward to.
As news of the scoreline from Goodison came through, they taunted the home crowd with chants of ‘You’re going down’.
Their team were second best for much of the contest, with Fornals netting a consolation and skipper Declan Rice possibly featuring in his last league game for the club.
This was their 20th league defeat of the season, but their focus was already on Prague, where they face Italian side Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final on 7 June.
Victory would give them their first major trophy since they lifted the 1980 FA Cup.
Manager David Moyes said: “Getting to European finals don’t come around too often for lots of top, British clubs.
“Manchester City are in the biggest one but the competition we earned being in, we got ourselves into the final of.”
source – BBC