Leicester City defeated Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 on a cool Tuesday night at the King Power. The Foxes led through goals by Demarai Gray in the first half and Jamie Vardy in the second. The visitors drew one back through Davy Propper, but Leicester held on to win for the first time in seven matches.
Caretaker manager Mike Stowell selected what was likely to be his only starting XI by making only two changes to Puel’s last team. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. The midfield three was comprised of Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, and James Maddison. In attack, Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray manned the wings beside striker Jamie Vardy.
It only took the Foxes 10 minutes to get the Stowell era off to a flying start. The Seagulls turned the ball over to Tielemans in midfields and the Monaco loanee drove forward and drew the defenders to him before laying an inch perfect ball in the bath of the onrushing Gray. The former Birmingham man had all day to pick his spot and he picked it well, blasting the ball inside the near post to give Leicester that rarest of all things, an early lead.
You might not have assumed that a match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester would be “wide-open”, but it most certainly was. Both sides were moving the ball at pace and creating chances, but poor final balls and excellent goalkeeping prevented the goals from pouring in. Barnes absolutely skinned his man and broke down the left, but mis-hit his cross to Gray who wold have had a tap-in.
At the other end, Anthony Knockaert should have leveled the score with a gilt-edged chance on 30’. A cross caromed off of Evans to the former Fox. He struck his shot well, but Schmeichel got a strong hand to it and just punched it around the post to preserve the lead. The best chance for the visitors came from a long ball to Knockaert. He slid the ball low across the face of the goal, but Ricardo was around to tidy up just before it was tapped in.
Both sides emerged from the tunnel unchanged to start the second half, and both sides really should have scored in the first few minutes of the half. The extremely-energetic Vardy managed to get between two defenders to meet Gray’s cross, but his header was wide when it would have been easier to hit the target.
As if intent on doing Vardy one better, the Seagulls conspired to miss an even better chance immediately afterwards. Once again, Knockaert was the architect, unlocking the Leicester defense. His fed the ball in to Pascal Gross, who backheeled to an unmarked Glenn Murray. The burly striker somehow fired over from six yards with the goalmouth at his mercy.
The visitors could easily have then been down to ten men. Barnes once again got the better of his man and was cynically felled by Martin Montoya. Montoya was already on a booking and this looked suspiciously like another bookable offense, but the referee didn’t see anything wrong and let the challenge go.
The Foxes made Brighton pay for their wastefulness in front of goal with a team move that would surely have brought a smile to the face of former manager Claude Puel, or at the very least a tight-lipped almost-grin. Tielemans set Ricardo free with a through ball down the right. The Portugal man cut the ball back to Maddison, who slid the ball to Vardy in the middle. His shot was close to the keeper and would have been saved had it not achieved super-sonic pace and slammed into the back of the net, giving the Foxes a 2-0 margin.
Alas, the two-goal margin didn’t last long. Yet another Seagulls move down the right led to confusion at the back for the Foxes. A low cross pinballed through the area and found Davy Propper, who had time to take a touch and fire a low ball past Schmeichel. The keeper got a hand to it, but he saw it late and couldn’t keep it out of the back of the net.
The highlight of the match, for me, came from the most unlikely of sources and yet it was no surprise at all. Maguire received the ball at the half-way line. He wasn’t closed down, so he carried the ball forward...and forward...until he just outside the penalty box. He took on two defenders, carried it past them into the box, took on two more defenders, beat them both, and then laid the ball back to Barnes, whose shot was easily blocked. OK, so the ending wasn’t great, but it was absolutely exceptional skill for a centre-half. It was exceptional skill for anyone.
Both sides had chances in the last 10 minutes and 5 minutes of time added on, but neither had what would be considered a serious look at the goal, except perhaps one shot by Murray which again contrived to miss when missing was the more difficult option. The Foxes looked like conceding more often than you would have liked, but they held on for a well-deserved 2-1 victory.
Winning ways are here again for #LCFC. Great to see. Out of the blocks quickly but rode their luck a little. You need that sometimes.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) February 26, 2019
Brendan Rodgers will have seen plenty to get excited about in that squad. Harvey Barnes, especially.
Well, even though we shot a gazillion times (Editors note: It was 19) and only hit the target with three of them, there was a feel to this match was markedly different than what we’ve seen of late. Maybe it’s the change in management, maybe it’s the early goal, but the energy and confidence were at levels we haven’t seen in a while.
There were, as you might expect, quite a few notable performances. Schmeichel kept us in the game, Tielemans is so, so smooth in midfield, and Vardy was back to his wrecking crew best. For my money, it was the wide men who were just off the charts with their work rate. Both Gray and Barnes looked a threat any time they came near the ball.
Keep trying. It’s bound to stick eventually.
The victory (oh how I’ve missed typing that word) gives us 35 points from 28 matches, good enough for 11th on the table. With Wolves losing tonight, is Europe out of reach? Well, yes, but it’s fun to think about. Our next match is on Sunday when we travel to Vicarage Road to take on Watford.