Football Features

“He can’t be stopped” – Jesse Lingard the architect as West Ham climb back into top four and complete double over Leicester

By Ben Green

Published: 16:46, 11 April 2021

West Ham have climbed back into the Premier League top four and kept their unexpected charge for European football alive after holding their nerve to beat Leicester 3-2 at the London Stadium.

The Hammers for the third game running found themselves three goals to the good after a Jesse Lingard brace and a Jarrod Bowen finish put them firmly in the ascendancy, but for the third game running as well, they were made to sweat for the points in the end.

Arsenal, just before the international break, rallied and executed a superb turnaround: 3-3. Wolves, on Monday night, refused to feel sorry for themselves and fought back, but just not enough: 3-2. And Leicester, looking to consolidate their top-four standing, threw the kitchen sink at West Ham late on, but like Wolves, just couldn’t find that golden equaliser: 3-2.

The performances were standout across the turf for David Moyes’ men: Bowen deputising with distinction in place of the injured Michail Antonio; Craig Dawson putting his body on the line to keep a lid on Jamie Vardy; Mark Noble marking his 400th Premier League appearance with a typical Mark Noble performance, full of heart, grit steel and determination.

But, it was loanee Lingard who once again stole the show. Under the watchful eye of Gareth Southgate, Lingard firmly staked his claim for a place in the England squad this summer, producing another on-field masterclass to thumb his nose at those who questioned his signing, those who thought he was finished, those who thought he cared more for social media than for the turf.

Once again Lingard was West Ham’s architect in every sense, the creative release valve and playmaker fulcrum, breaking the deadlock with what can only be described as a goal of world-class quality, and not the luck that some were claiming.

As Vladimir Coufal whipped in a delectable cross, Lingard steadied himself and uncorked a quite unorthodox volley, almost caressing the ball into the near corner; that it was executed in midair and kept its pace only adds to the wonder of the goal, with Kasper Schmeichel rooted to the spot and completely unawares.

It had all the hallmarks of a Dimitri Payet finish, echoes of the balletic maverick in Lingard’s game with every pirouette, every well-choreographed finish, every graceful turn, dink and volley. But, Lingard is writing his own script, his own East End legacy, transcending past cult heroes.

If you were to compare Lingard’s impact at West Ham to anyone, though, perhaps a more fitting reference point would be Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United. The Portuguese’s arrival in January 2020 sparked a sharp upturn in performances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, and he has since cemented his status as irreplaceable in the starting XI, which subsequently pushed Lingard down the pecking order and ultimately led him to the exit doors.

Indeed, since Fernandes made his debut for Man Utd in February 2020, no player has been directly involved in more goals than him (24 goals, 18 assists). Conversely, since Lingard made his debut for West Ham in February 2021, no player has been directly involved in more goals than him (eight goals, three assists).

Ironically, the parallels are striking: he has become the player that replaced him.

The England international is now breaking records for West Ham left, right and centre; his timely brace ensured he has now netted in four consecutive games for the first time in his career, while he has also been the division’s most productive player his making his debut against Aston Villa on February 3.

His second finish on the day should certainly not be sniffed at either. As Bowen broke Leicester’s defensive line with a timely long ball from Issa Diop, Lingard anticipated the movement and kept pace with the sonic-speed legs of West Ham’s moonlighting centre-forward, before cooly tucking into an empty net.

There were fears that Moyes’ side would fade into mid-table oblivion after news filtered through about Declan Rice’s injury whilst on international duty with England, and those apprehensions were exacerbated to the nth degree after Antonio pulled up against Wolves, but the Hammers have refused to conform to stereotype and fall by the wayside, and they have Lingard to thank for that.

The collective endeavour of West Ham is evident for all to see, but Lingard is the catalyst, instigating attacking moves, finishing them off and harmoniously linking play together; and forward who just ‘cannot be stopped’ as Rice lead to social media eulogies while watching on from the stands.

The convalescing enforcer was kicking every ball from the London Stadium terraces, oscillating between emotions, and celebrating with gusto at the full-time whistle; his blossoming relationship with Lingard has underpinned the camaraderie and togetherness Moyes has created at the club.

Once the dust settles and heartbeats steady again, Moyes will reflect on another two goals conceded and another injury, two concerning footnotes on the contest that are becoming an all too familiar tale for the European aspirants.

Aaron Cresswell, the division’s chief full-back playmaker, was forced to withdraw while feeling his hamstring, but Moyes has thus far weathered his ever-growing casualty list, but he will be hoping that the treatment tables don’t become a frequented habitat for his stars in the coming weeks.

Whether that’s the case or not, one thing that seems a guarantee at the minute is the burgeoning form of Lingard, a player who refuses to let up and go missing. He was the protagonist once again against the Foxes, and he is saying to West Ham fans: dream of Europe.