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Champions League

West Ham 3-2 Leicester: Jesse Lingard double strengthens Hammers’ top-four bid

Jesse Lingard is one in a bullion – and as West Ham climbed back into the top four, their on-loan magician struck gold again.

Eight goals and three assists in just nine Premier League appearances for the Hammers doesn’t just make Lingard the loan signing of the season.

In the London Stadium’s long history, all nine years of it, only Dimitri Payet has made such an impact in so many vivid shades of claret and blue.

This result could yet prove to be a pivotal shoot-out in the race for Champions League football next season, and two-goal Lingard’s latest star turn proved decisive.

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And whether the trail leads them to the Nou Camp and Bernabeu among Europe’s gilded elite next season, or Thursday night assignments in Azerbaijan and Smorgasbord country, West Ham have been a revelation this season.

Bowen scored West Ham's third after the break
Bowen scored West Ham’s third after the break

Twelve months ago, they were dicing with relegation and grateful for any scraps at the top table. Now manager David Moyes must think all his cockles, winkles and rollmops have come at once.

The absence of the Hammers’ most influential players, Declan Rice and Michail Antonio, could have exposed the anorexic thinness of Moyes’ squad, and they were clinging on for dear life at the end.

But if they were running on fumes in the six added minutes, it was a fair cop.

Leicester we can deal with in short measure. Grand National weekend was a timely reminder of their Devon Loch collapse to miss out on Champions League football last year.

Unlike Aintree’s most ill-fated nag, they finished strongly here – but they got what they deserved.

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Iheanacho scored twice in the second half for Leicester
Iheanacho scored twice in the second half for Leicester

In a frantic finale, Wesley Fofana’s last-gasp header almost snatched an undeserved point, but for an hour, they were shocking and it should never have been close.

They can’t blow another top-four finish… can they?

Drawn the curtain, nurse – this is going to hurt. If anyone at the King Power thinks it’s not going to happen again, have a look at the league table and tell me you’re sitting comfortably.

And wherever Leicester finish next month, sooner or later manager Brendan Rodgers must grasp the nettle.

At 34, former England striker Jamie Vardy – just one goal since December – is beginning to look like a Ferrari with a Nissan engine under the bonnet.

They fell behind after 29 minutes as the irrepressible Lingard – a spare part at Manchester United but already East end royalty – added to his legend in cor blimey heartlands.

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In truth, his first-time shot from Vladimir Coufal’s cut-back was more of a bump-and-run than a five iron off the fairway, but Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel was unsighted and it bounced inside the near post.

Worse was to follow for the visitors a minute before the break when Jarrod Bowen raced clear on to Issa Diop’s clearance and Lingard rolled home into an empty net with Schmeichel stranded in no man’s land.

Even the graffiti of VAR official Michael Oliver’s lines drawn across the screen could not save Leicester, and three minutes into the second period they were beyond redemption.

When Kelechi Iheanacho gave the ball away, the Foxes’ defence evaporated like a referee’s magic spray, leaving Lingard and Tomas Soucek to tee up Bowen, whose eighth goal of the season was shelling peas.

As the Foxes’ negligence gave way to rigor mortis, Issa Diop’s header from Lingard’s cross was correctly disallowed for offside until, better late than never, they went through the motions of a fightback.

Arthur Masuaku’s dawdling was punished by Iheanacho’s rasping finish with 20 minutes left and the Nigerian striker’s second goal in stoppage time, from lively substitute Marc Albrighton’s low centre, set up a more tense finish than the Foxes deserved.

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