Cheikhou Kouyaté steadies West Ham ship after Leicester goal threatens mutiny

Jacob Steinberg at the London Stadium on 24 November 2017

David Moyes could reflect on his first experience of the London Stadium with a measure of fondness. It was a night of frustration in one sense, bearing in mind that West Ham’s bluntness when they went in search of a late winning goal left them in the bottom three and without a victory since September, but it was a relief for the Scot to hear his new fans bellow his name throughout the second half.

“David Moyes’s claret and blue army” was the chant and West Ham will need more of that unity if they are to save themselves from the unthinkable disaster of relegation in the coming months.

Much to the relief of this unhappy club’s unpopular board, the anticipated mutiny against their role in West Ham’s avoidable spiral into peril never quite materialised, even after Leicester City seized an early lead.

The home supporters resisted the temptation to voice their displeasure with the people sitting in the posh seats and instead chose to rally behind the manager who at times looked so lonely in his technical area at this strange, unloved ground. “You need a foghorn on the touchline to make yourself heard,” Moyes observed of the distance between the pitch and the dugouts, although he was also quick to point out “it was more like Upton Park” as West Ham tried in vain to break down Claude Puel’s side.

It was clear the crowd had decided to channel its anger into something more productive.

There were times when it felt like a fragile truce, particularly in the difficult moments following Marc Albrighton’s crisp goal in the eighth minute, but it was striking that Moyes’s men were applauded off at the final whistle as recognition for an improved effort after ruining their new manager’s debut with a collapse at Watford last weekend.

They summoned defiance to earn a point, Cheikhou Kouyaté equalising on the stroke of half-time, and can be confident of winning their fight against relegation if they can add some poise to go with the heart on display here.

The disappointing part, however, was that a second goal proved elusive. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City lie in wait after Wednesday’s trip to Everton – an appointment Moyes has undoubtedly had marked in the diary ever since replacing Slaven Bilic – and that trio will not have seen too much here to scare them.

The Premier League’s worst defence conceded for the 25th time this season and it should be pointed out West Ham were slightly fortuitous to be level at the break, bearing in mind Martin Atkinson, the referee, could easily have awarded Leicester a penalty for Arthur Masuaku’s trip on Albrighton.

Leicester were already ahead when Albrighton tumbled and Jamie Vardy also had a couple of chances to extend their lead, sending one curling shot just wide. The visitors had pace in abundance up front and Vardy was dangerous in the first half, creating Albrighton’s opener with clever movement on the left and bending one effort just wide.

The striker’s unselfish and wily movement allowed Albrighton to break the deadlock. West Ham failed to read the threat. There was not enough pressure on the ball as Leicester swiftly shuffled it around in the middle and Riyad Mahrez and Wilfried Ndidi combined to release Vardy.

Winston Reid was pulled out of position and Angelo Ogbonna will wince when he sees a replay of the striker’s cutback sliding through his legs before reaching Albrighton, whose low finish deceived the flatfooted Joe Hart.

“I thought we were a little bit unlucky to go a goal behind,” Moyes said. “It was a bit of character we showed. We could have easily gone under at that point.”

The first goal of the Moyes era certainly arrived at a good time for West Ham. Despite beginning with the knowledge they needed a cohesive performance to keep a lid on the growing angst and anger within their support after months of stagnation, they had toiled before Kouyaté’s intervention. Andy Carroll struggled again up front.

For a while the mood was ugly as tension ate away at West Ham’s belief but they had enjoyed a couple of promising moments from set pieces before Kouyaté headed Manuel Lanzini’s corner off Danny Simpson’s shoulder and past Kasper Schmeichel.

West Ham dominated for long periods after that goal. Masuaku provided thrust on the left and Marko Arnautovic’s improved display was epitomised by a saving tackle on Vardy.

Yet the hosts lacked ideas in open play. Leicester, ultimately, were never under siege at any point and, while André Ayew was close with a late overhead kick, there was no need for any heroics from Schmeichel.

For Moyes, though, the first bricks have been laid. Goodison Park next. How he would relish winning there.

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