Islam Slimani ensured Leicester City ended a dream 2016 with a much-needed 1-0 victory over West Ham at the King Power Stadium.
The Foxes completed a scarcely believable Premier League title triumph last season, but a run of just one win in nine league outings had left Claudio Ranieri’s men just three points above the drop zone prior to Saturday’s match.
However, the champions will enter 2017 with a welcome confidence boost, thanks to Slimani’s thumping 20th-minute header from Marc Albrighton’s teasing cross.
Slimani had already hit the post for the Foxes, who survived a scare towards the end of the first half when Michail Antonio rattled the crossbar and Dimitri Payet’s free-kick was well saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
West Ham had Leicester pinned back for the majority of the second period, but the Foxes defence remained resolute to end the visitors’ three-match winning league run.
Leicester consequently open a six-point buffer over the bottom three, while Slaven Bilic’s side missed the chance to move into the top half.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 31, 2016
The hosts made a bright start and Riyad Mahrez – recalled to the starting XI after being dropped for the loss to Everton – latched onto to Demarai Gray’s dinked pass before testing Darren Randolph with a stinging volley.
West Ham were let off the hook when Albrighton’s deep, right-wing cross was headed against the outside of the post by a stretching Slimani.
But the Hammers failed to learn their lesson, as Albrighton was once again afforded too much space on the right and his cross towards the back post was headed in emphatically by Slimani.
West Ham grew into the game and Schmeichel was out quickly to deny Payet after the ball fell kindly for the Frenchman.
Antonio then lashed a volley against the crossbar, before Payet’s 25-yard free-kick drew a smart stop low to Schmeichel’s left.
At the other end, Randolph had to be at his best to keep out Mahrez’s free-kick that was heading for the top-right corner on the stroke of half-time.
Daniel Amartey was perhaps fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for an ugly studs-up challenge on Mark Noble early in the second half that eventually forced the Hammers skipper to be replaced by Manuel Lanzini.
Lanzini almost made a swift impact when his cross picked out Andy Carroll, who was denied by Robert Huth’s superb last-ditch tackle.
West Ham continued to probe and Schmeichel’s quick reactions ensured that Aaron Cresswell’s deflected free-kick did not squirm into the Leicester goal.
But the Hammers were lucky to still have 11 men on the pitch when Havard Nordtveit’s high, lunging challenge on Ben Chilwell only received a yellow card.
Carroll could have done better when he headed wide from Cresswell’s left-wing cross late on, but in truth Leicester’s defence was largely untroubled in the closing stages en route to a big three points.
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