HAPPY, bubble-blowing days could be here again at Upton Park if this is anything to go by. Leicester should have been dead and buried - and looked it at half-time - but the mixture of the Hammers' bravura and defensive carelessness could have cost them in a remarkable five-goal second half.
There had only been one team in it in the first half and this must rank as one of the Hammers' best performances of the season. Both their goals were the culmination of fast, inventive football. The first, after 15 minutes, came when Samassi Abou fed Frank Lampard and his 20-yard volley flew past Kasey Keller.
The second, in the 30th minute, was created by a sweet pass from Stan Lazaridis which gave Abou a head start over Steve Walsh and Robbie Savage. They had no chance of matching the striker for speed and the ball duly nestled in the Leicester net. On the stroke of half-time Abou and Lampard contrived a reprieve of the move that brought the first goal, but this time Lampard's shot hit the foot of a post, rebounded tantalisingly across the face of goal only for the ball to trundle over the byline.
With Emile Heskey and Ian Marshall firmly in the grip of Ian Pearce and Rio Ferdinand, Lampard was allowed to stamp his authority over the midfield in this period, with positive assistance from Abou and young Scott Mean, who replaced Eyal Berkovic after only 24 minutes. Mustafa Izzet and Neil Lennon were forced to cede the territory and the Hammers grabbed the opportunity to strut their stuff.
Their play still had a swagger after the re-start, but Leicester promised to be more threatening with a reshuffled line-up that took Marshall back into defence to take over from Walsh who was substituted by yesterday's West Ham love object, Tony Cottee.
He gave his old side a fright with a goal in the 63rd minute, but Sinclair restored their advantage five minutes later. But the Eastenders had not learned the lesson and in the 70th minute Heskey was allowed to manoeuvre the space for a shot which he buried beyond Bernard Lama.
But the cutting edge that the speed of Sinclair and Lazaridis, allied to Abou's movement, always gave the home side more options when they got within sight of Keller's goal. And within minutes Lazaridis was hurtling into the Leicester box where Marshall's blocking tackle pushed the ball conveniently into Abou's stride and his second flew high into Keller's net.
But their Achilles heal was tweaked again five minutes from time when Cottee scored his second.
Harry Redknapp, the West Ham manager, said: "I'm disappointed that we didn't get into Europe but if you'd said at the start of the season we would finish eighth, not many people would have believed it. We've taken a massive step forward this year as a football club."
Goals: Lampard (15) 1-0; Abou (31) 2-0; Cottee (59) 2-1; Sinclair (65) 3-1; Heskey (66) 3-2; Abou (74) 4-2; Cottee (83) 4-3.
West Ham United (3-5-2): Lama; Unsworth, Pearce, Ferdinand; Sinclair, Berkovic (Mean, 25), Lomas, Lampard, Lazaridis; Abou, Omoyimni. Substitutes not used: Keith, Hodges, Berthe, Forrest (gk).
Leicester City (4-4-2): Keller; Kaamark, Elliott, Walsh (Cottee, 55), Guppy; Savage, Lennon, Zagorakis (Parker, 45), Izzet; Marshall (Wilson, 76), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Fenton, Arphexad (gk).
Referee: U D Rennie (Sheffield).
Bookings: West Ham: Sinclair. Leicester: Elliott, Guppy, Walsh.
Man of the match: Abou.
Attendance: 25,781.Reuse content