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Leicester edge clear of relegation zone

Leicester City’s striker Islam Slimani (C) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and West Ham United at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Justin TALLIS

LEICESTER, United Kingdom, Dec 31Premier League champions Leicester City eased their relegation fears as Islam Slimani’s headed goal gave them a much-needed 1-0 victory over West Ham on Saturday.

Boosted by the inclusion of Riyad Mahrez, Robert Huth and Danny Drinkwater, Leicester looked every inch the side who battered Manchester City just a few weeks ago in one of this season’s rare high points for the Foxes.

Claudio Ranieri’s side now travel to Middlesbrough on Monday looking to pull farther clear of the bottom three whilst Slaven Bilic’s West Ham host Manchester United

The home side could easily have been a couple of goals ahead in a fast and frantic opening and were only denied by fine goalkeeping from West Ham’s Darren Randolph and the post.

Randolph worked wonders in tipping Mahrez’s left foot shot over the crossbar following a fine Leicester move.

A minute later Marc Albrighton outpaced Dimitri Payet and sent over a pin-point cross which the unmarked Slimani could only head directly against the woodwork.

Leicester City’s midfielder Marc Albrighton (L) vies with West Ham United’s midfielder Dimitri Payet during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and West Ham United on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Justin TALLIS

A rare scare for Leicester followed when Aaron Cresswell’s ball from the right saw Wes Morgan flick the ball into Michail Antonio’s path. The winger though had to stretch and skied his effort well over the crossbar.

What turned out to be the winner arrived in the 20th minute when Albrighton produced a superb cross and Slimani planted a firm header across Randolph and into the net.

It was nearly 2-0 moments later when Demarai Gray’s left wing cross was directed towards his own net by Angelo Ogbonna only for Randolph to block with his right knee at close range.

The visitors claimed a penalty when Albrighton slid in on Payet, who crumpled to the ground.

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They came closer still to finding an equaliser when Payet’s free-kick, following a block from Daniel Amartey, led to a mad scramble inside the penalty area.

Mark Noble’s pass was cut out by a sliding Simpson and Kasper Schmeichel saved from Payet with his feet.

The in-form Antonio then fired against the crossbar with a spectacular effort from Cresswell’s cross.

Huth was booked for winning the ball but sliding dangerously into Payet and from the free-kick a diving Schmeichel preserved City’s lead in diving down low to his left to push the ball around the post.

West Ham United’s striker Andy Carroll (2nd R) vies with Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and West Ham United on December 31, 2016 © AFP / Justin TALLIS

The first half ended with Slimani hooking a shot onto the roof of the net from Mahrez’s cross.

The second half lacked much of the goalmouth action but not the intensity or passion.

Amartey was booked for a foul on Noble two minutes after the restart and Noble was soon forced off through injury.

A high, late and ugly challenge earned a yellow card for West Ham’s Havard Nordtveit with his victim Ben Chilwell caught by studs into the midriff. Schmeichel raced 30 yards out of his area to join Leicester protests which promptly earned the goalkeeper a caution for dissent.

The visitors were looking much the stronger as referee Anthony Taylor’s card-count continued to rise at a rapid rate. Simpson was booked from kicking the ball away after tripping Antonio before Manuel Lanzini also saw yellow for hauling back Amartey.

Chilwell’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Andy Carroll, who also did enough to deny Shinji Okazaki from the rebound, then Ogbonna’s goal-bound header was blocked as City hung on for a vital win.

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