Leicester City downed Cardiff City one goal to nil Saturday evening in Wales in their first match since the helicopter crash that took the club owner and four others one week ago. A brilliant team move and a fine finish by Demarai Gray provided the difference in a match that shouldn’t have been as close as the scoreline suggested.
Claude Puel’s starting XI was once again a revolving door, with one forced change due to the injury of Daniel Amertey and the welcome return of both Wes Morgan and Demarai Gray. Kasper Scheichel started between the sticks behind a back line of Ricardo Pereira, Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi lined up in central midfield behind Gray on the left, James Maddison in a central position, and Marc Albrighton on the right. Jamie Vardy returned to lead the line as the lone striker.
Before the kickoff, both starting lineups, as well as the Leicester bench, coaches, and back room staff, lined up on the centre circle for a silent minute of reflection for the five people, including City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, killed in the helicopter crash at the King Power stadium last week.
City looked nervy in the early going, struggling to string passes together and looking shaky at the back. The Foxes started to get their legs under them around the quarter-hour mark, but neither side was able to get any momentum going in what was proving to be a scrappy affair. Referee Lee Probert seemed reluctant to whistle for what appeared to be clear fouls, encouraging both sides to get more aggressive in their play.
Ill-fortune struck for the Foxes on 22’ when Harry Maguire went down under a heavy challenge from Bluebirds’ striker Callum Paterson. Maguire tried to run it off but was unable to continue, forcing Puel to send on Jonny Evans for the formerly ever-present Maguire.
Just moments later, it was hearts-in-mouths time for Leicester City. Gray collapsed under a challenge on the edge of the area. Play continued as City looked to break through Vardy, overhit the ball, and the Bluebirds broke back and won a free kick on the edge of the D with Gray lying on the pitch in agony. Camarasa’s free kick struck the top bar with Schmeichel rooted to the spot, and Gray was fortunately able to carry on.
City had their best chance of the half after lovely build up play from Maddison, Gray, and Chilwell led to a corner. The floated out-swinger curled invitingly for Ndidi, who nearly leaped out of the stadium to reach it, but his aim was poor and his put the ball wide when he should have at least hit the target.
The Foxes kept up the pressure as Ben Chilwell caught a flying Vardy on the left wing. His cross was cleared only as far as Mendy, whose shot was deflected just wide of the net. City had a couple of opportunities to get the ball into the box from the ensuing corner, but failed to find the final pass to unlock the hosts’ defense.
The breakthrough should have come in injury time. Ndidi drove into the box and had his low shot well-saved, but the rebound fell to Maddison. The former Norwich man’s shot was blocked, but bounced straight to Vardy four yards from the goal. The striker’s shot was turned on the to bar by former City defender Sol Bamba’s right arm. You’d think that would be a penalty and a red card, and you’d be right to think that, but for some reason Lee Probert didn’t blow the whistle. For all of the action, the scoreline remained 0-0.
Both sides were unchanged to start the second period, and the run of play was much the same. The Foxes won a couple of corners without causing any serious danger. They were nearly made to pay, as Ricardo made an absolute mess of a clearance and lost the ball to Josh Murphy on the left wing. With Ricardo already on a yellow, he was unable to challenge the pacy Murphy, who took the ball all the way from the half-way line into the box, but his shot was well-saved by Schmeichel.
It was, fittingly, a team goal par excellence that broke the deadlock. Maddison’s long pass was won back by Vardy, who found Albrighton on the left wing. He slid a low ball to the overlapping Chilwell. Vardy’s run to the near post drew in the defense, allowing Chilwell to chip the ball to the penalty spot. Gray cut in from the right, beat the defender the ball, and hit it first time into the back of the net. The goal unleashed a wild celebration from the players and the fans, earning Gray a yellow that he surely won’t mind in the least.
Demarai Gray puts Leicester City 1-0 up at Cardiff City. Incredible emotion shown as the #LCFC players celebrate with their fans.— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) November 3, 2018
Gray takes his jersey off (yes, he was booked) and his shirt simply says "For Vichai" pic.twitter.com/jPwp5oD77u
The hosts began to put some pressure on the Foxes, so Puel looked to his bench and called on...Danny Simpson? Yes! Danny Simpson, making his first appearance on the bench and in the league, came on for goal-scorer Demarai Gray. Leicester responded by laying siege to the Cardiff goal, going close through a well-blocked cross from Ricardo, a deflected shot from Albrighton, and then Evans turned an Ndidi knockdown just wide.
It was the Bluebirds’ turn to win a series of corners, ending in a wildly misplaced header from Paterson, who, I would like to point out, is an incredibly easy player to root against. I’m sure he’s a fan favorite for the way he throws himself about, but you always get the sense he’s going to put one of our players in the hospital and claim he was the one who was fouled. I guess opponents say the same thing about Vardy, but they’re wrong because Vardy is the best.
Leicester’s class began to tell as the hosts struggled to get a touch on the ball. Puel sent on Vicente Iborra to see out the final ten minutes. City should have put it away on 87’ when Ndidi carried the ball half the length of the pitch and slid a perfect pass to Vardy to put him one-on-one with the keeper, but Neil Etheridge did well to get a leg to it and put it wide.
The fourth official indicated 5 minutes of time added on, but Cardiff City were left chasing shadows and City looked the more likely to score. A couple of late headers by Sean Morrison failed to find the target and Leicester were able to see out the injury time and secure an important and emotional away win.
While there were a few nervy moments at the back, the Foxes were good value for the victory and could easily have padded the scoreline by another goal or two. This was a solid team effort, with no player looking especially poor and several who stood out. Obviously, the goal-scorer Demarai Gray was excellent, as was Ben Chilwell, but I’d like to give special praise to the defensive midfield. Cardiff were able to play some balls over the top and down their left, but they found no joy going down the middle and that is largely down to the play of Ndidi and Mendy.
The one negative mark is the injury to Harry Maguire. It didn’t appear to be serious, as he attempted to run it off and play through it, but until we receive an official update, it’s fingers-crossed here at the Fosse Posse. We have unprecedented depth at centre-half, but there’s really no replacing Maguire.
The win moves the Foxes up to 11th on the table on 14 points. Leicester City host Burnley next Saturday at the King Power in a Premier League match.
The result didn’t matter. But in many ways it did. Great to win. Great to do it for Vichai. We love you Leicester.— Jason Bourne (@JasonBourne1986) November 3, 2018