Leicester City defeated Brighton and Hove Albion by a score of 2-0 at the American Express Community Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Goals by Vicente Iborra and Jamie Vardy provided the margin of victory for the Foxes, who have now taken 3 points from back-to-back away matches. Spoiler alert here: The scoreline is in no way an accurate reflection of the run of play in what was one of the strangest and most contentious second-half displays in recent memory.
City lined up in a familiar formation with Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Harry Maguire and captain Wes Morgan at centre-half, Danny Simpson and Ben Chilwell at fullback. Iborra and Wilfred Ndidi partnered in central midfield, with Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton on the wings, and Shinji Okazaki just behind Vardy up front.
For whatever reason, nothing clicked for either side in the first half. Both teams gave the ball away cheaply, struggling with their first touches and unable to string passes together. The only real chance of the half fell to Brighton’s Glenn Murray, who got in behind a napping Foxes’ defense courtesy of lovely ball by Pascal Groß, but the striker put his shot wide when he was 1-on-1 with Schmeichel.
That was it; no other highlights to report. Neither side had a corner kick in the first half. The two teams neutralized each other perfectly in the sense that they looked equally inept. The only other events of note were a couple of cheap yellow cards picked up by Morgan and Ndidi. This is what we in the business refer to as “foreshadowing.”
The second half started much as the first half ended and for all the world it looked as if the game would end 0-0. City manager Claude Puel sent Fousseni Diabaté on for the hardworking but ineffective Okazaki on 55’ in an attempt to stem the home side’s gathering momentum.
The game started to open up over the next quarter hour. Both sides had a couple of half-chances as the pulse of the match began to quicken. Worryingly, no individual’s influence was growing as much as that of the referee Chris Kavanagh. Maguire, Simpson, and Chilwell all went into the book in rapid succession, as did Brighton’s Beram Kayal.
It seemed only a matter of time, then, that a penalty would be awarded. Solly March slipped a clever ball to José Izquierdo, who was squeezed off the ball by Maguire and Ndidi. Murray stepped up to the spot and struck it sweetly to the right, but Schmeichel guessed correctly and saved emphatically.
CLAUDE: “The penalty save was a crucial moment and, in the minds of my players, it gave them the belief to go on and win the game. It was hard for Brighton to recover from that, but congratulations to my players for capitalising.” #BriLei— Leicester City (@LCFC) March 31, 2018
On 80’, Demarai Gray came on for the unusually subdued Albrighton and, within a couple of minutes, Leicester were ahead. Following Leicester’s first corner of the game, the ball went wide to the left wing. Chilwell lofted a lovely ball to the unmarked Iborra, whose header rooted the keeper and gave the Foxes the lead out of almost nothing.
Christian Fuchs came on for Mahrez as Puel tried to tighten up the defense and see out the game, but it was never going to be that simple. On 87’ minutes, Ndidi nicked the ball off of Shane Duffy just outside the Leicester penalty area. There may have been the slightest contact, but for some reason, Kavanagh felt compelled to produce a second yellow for the disbelieving Nigerian.
The free kick came to nothing, but Leicester still had to hang on for 3 more minutes of regular time and then 5 minutes of time added on. The south coasters won four corners in rapid success but failed to breach the Foxes’ defense. Finally getting out of their own half, Leicester broke through Gray on the right wing. The former Birmingham man sent in a beautiful low cross, finding Vardy at the back post for the simplest of tap-ins.
File this one under “job done.” It wasn’t pretty, and you could make a pretty good argument that we didn’t deserve 3 points, but at the end of the day, that hardly matters. The only real negative is that, this being Ndidi’s second sending-off, he’ll miss the next two matches.
The win keeps Leicester in 8th place, 3 points behind Burnley and just 5 behind 6th place Arsenal. Believe it or not, the match against the Clarets at Turf Moor could very well decide the final Europa League place. First though, Newcastle visit the King Power next Saturday morning in what could reasonably be described as a “must win” match if we harbour any hopes of European football next year.