Leicester City topped relegated Huddersfield Town by a score of 4-1 Saturday afternoon at the John Smith’s. A first half curler from Youri Tielemans, a second half brace by Jamie Vardy and a brilliant free kick from James Maddison doomed the already-doomed Terriers to defeat. A controversial penalty dispatched by Aaron Mooy gave the hosts some hope, but in the end the rampant Foxes were not to be denied.
With neither Harry Maguire nor Jonny Evans available for selection, manager Brendan Rodgers made one change to the side that defeated Bournemouth last week. Kasper Schmeichel was between the sticks behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi anchored the midfield five with Demarai Gray, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes in attack. Jamie Vardy was once again the lone striker.
Maguire was unavailable as he was attending the birth of a future Leicester academy starlet.
The first quarter hour happened, but there’s little else to be said about it. Both sides spent more time moving backwards than towards their opponents’ goals. On the rare occasions when they sallied forward,neither club could find the final ball, or to be honest, the penultimate ball. There were precisely zero shots, on-target or otherwise, during the first fifteen minutes.
The first attack of note came through the obvious route of a marauding run forward by Söyüncü. The Turkey international carried the ball through the Terriers’ defense and all the way to the edge of the penalty area where he neatly laid it off for Barnes on the wing. The former West Brom loanee drove his low cross into the area. It fell to Maddison, whose shot was saved by the prodigious beard of former Fox Ben Hamer.
The breakthrough came on 24’ minutes shortly after the Foxes won their first corner of the match. A low ball was played to Vardy on outside of the scrum. His first-time shot was scuffed and cleared as far as Morgan, who had a third goal in as many games on his mind, but his shot was blocked. It fell to Tielemans on the edge of the area. The Belgium man’s curling effort beat Hamer who, being charitable, must not have seen it properly.
Leicester could, and perhaps should, have had two more in the next five minutes. A long ball over the top set Vardy free on the left. He beat his defender and pulled it back for Gray, but the former Birmingham man blasted over with the goalmouth at his mercy. Moments later, Maddison appeared to have been in on goal but a last ditch toe poke by the hosts’ defense prevented him from pulling the trigger.
City had yet another chance to double the lead when the Terriers turned the ball over in midfield. In a flash, Gray was one-on-one with Hamer but he opted for “shooting directly at the keeper” when lifting the ball over him or sliding it to a teammate might have proven the more productive option. That was the last goalmouth action of the half. The Foxes looked comfortable but the failure to score more than one goal was a bit worrying.
Huddersfield made one change at the half, sending Isaac Mbenza on for Jon Stankovic and the move nearly paid immediate dividends. In the opening minutes of the half, Mbenza launched a cross in from the right that found the toe of the onrushing Alex Prichard in the six yard box. Schmeichel stood tall and parried the close-range effort, but the Terriers were clearly starting the second period with intent.
Of course, attacking intent from a struggling side can leave holes at the back as Huddersfield discovered to their dismay. Gray won the ball in midfield and sent Ricardo on his way down the right. The Portugal man’s long cross evaded the hosts’ defense and found the arguably-onside Vardy at the back post who blasted the ball into the back of the net. Game over?
Game definitely not over. Another run down the right by Mbenza caused some panic on the Leicester flank. Söyüncü’s first touch was heavy, but he just recovered to clear the ball ahead of attacker. The referee, however, blew for a penalty. There was nothing in it, but there was no changing his mind. Aaron Mooy stepped up and sent Schmeichel the wrong way, reducing the Leicester lead to one goal.
On the hour mark, Rodgers made his first change, sending Shinji Okazaki into the fray for Harvey Barnes. The match was starting to revert to the sloppy form of the opening exchanges. The Terriers were happy to let the visitors knock it around in midfield and attempt to pounce on any mistakes. At this stage, the next goal would be crucial but neither side looked much like scoring it.
As if on cue, Vardy decided to take matters into his own hands. At the edge of the area, he simply outworked Jonathan Hogg to get to a loose ball. The defender petulantly brought the former Fleetwood Town man down, giving his side a free kick in a dangerous area. Madders stepped up and fired the ball inside the far post and restoring the two-goal advantage.
The Foxes weren’t done yet. Maddison won the ball in the Huddersfield half and with one deft touch sent Vardy on his merry way. He rounded Hamer but was rudely brought down by Kongolo for the clearest of all penalties. Vardy stepped up to take and and, while the former Fox got a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent the current Fox from getting his second goal of the day.
With the game essentially decided, Rodgers made his second change, introducing Hamza Choudhury to give Ndidi a few minutes of well-deserved rest. The pace of play slackened as the game entered injury time. Kelechi Iheanacho came on for the final couple of minutes for Vardy, but wasn’t able to get a touch before the referee blew the whistle, calling time on a scrappy but ultimately decisive win for the Foxes.
Can a heavy victory be both scrappy and yet still deserved? I’m going to say “yes” on evidence of today’s match. The Foxes were rampant for long periods of time and could easily have had their four goals by half-time. On the other hand, it was a sloppy affair and Kasper Schmeichel was more involved that usual. We could easily have surrendered three goals and probably would have against a better side.
Still, it was a 4-1 victory and that’s as negative as I’m going to get about it. Remember when we had concerns about our creativity in the central midfield? That’s the least of our worries with Tielemans and Maddison pulling the strings. Both were excellent today and their presence makes Vardy almost unplayable.
Obviously, there were a lot of top offensive performances, but it’s the defense I’d like to shine the light on today. Schmeichel made two absolutely top-drawer saves at crucial times, whereas Hamer failed to get close to a couple of balls you would have expected him to reach. Çağlar Söyüncü may have conceded a controversial penalty, but he was excellent otherwise in a makeshift defensive pairing. Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the gaffer who, as Fosse Posse’s Matt Cook noted, is the best manager ever for getting Ndidi to stop shooting wildly from distance.
I feel for Claude, but you have to admit Andy has a point.
The victory leaves the Foxes on 47 points from 33 matches which is good enough for 7th with our nearest competitors having a game in hand. We’ll be hosting Newcastle next Friday evening at the King Power with a trip to London to face West Ham the following weekend. You don’t want to know what comes after that. Trust me on this one.