Leicester City comfortably handled Randers in our maiden Europa Conference League match, winning the first leg 4-1. Wilfred Ndidi scored in the first period and Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka, and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall all struck after the break while the visitors only managed a late goal against the play before half-time.
Manager Brendan Rodgers sent a message that he was taking this competition seriously by fielding what might be the strongest XI currently available. “Might” is doing a lot of lifting here as I doubt anyone genuinely knows our best lineup from one match to the next. Kasper Schmeichel (C), Daniel Amartey, Jannik Vestergaard, Çağlar Söyüncü, Marc Albrighton, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Ademola Lookman, Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka.
It took a few minutes, but the Foxes started off on the front foot and looked like scoring most times down the pitch. Vestergaard tried to pick out Lookman and Tielemans spotted Daka, but in both cases, the front men could get the first touch quite right. You could sense it coming, though.
The breakthrough came midway through the first half when Ndidi and Lookman played a one-two in the Randers box. Lookman pulled it back for his international teammate and Wilf side-footed home with a little help from a friendly deflection. The lead was nothing more than the Foxes deserved and they looked in the mood to put a hatful past Hestene keeper Patrick Carlgren.
Carlgren had other ideas. Three times Dewsbury-Hall put a good shot on target, and all three times the stopper kept them out, including a brilliant save with the tip of his toe. Söyüncü sent in a powerful half-volley from a Vestergaard knockdown, but again Calgren was equal to it.
As injury time approached, City had outshot their opponents by a margin of 13:1, and things were every bit as comfortable as that statistic suggested. This was, as you might have expected, was the cue for some vintage Leicestering. A ball down the Leicester left saw Albrighton, tonight’s left-back, lose his balance. This allowed Tosin Kehinde to tear down the flank, with Vestergaard trying to cover. Randers captain Vito Hammershøj-Mistrati (whose shirt, in an act of sheer mercy, reads “Vito”), ran into the gap in the defence, picked up a low cross, and slotted past Schmeichel to level the score at the break.
How would the Foxes react to giving up a late equaliser in the first half? Pretty well, as it turned out. The siege of the Randers goal continued and City finally worked out how to beat Calgren: Let one of his teammates do it.
Dewsbury-Hall, involved in all activity this evening, looped the ball into the area. It pinball'd around and, just as Carlgren was about to collect it, Lasser Berg Johnsen took it off his keeper’s fingertips. It fell to Barnes, who, with his back to goal, spun and lifted it left-footed into the back of the net.
Is Barnes the first player to score in all 3 European competitions?— (On loan at Luton) (@LcfcLeejon) February 17, 2022
How much history can be made in one evening? (I haven’t researched this conjecture, but I suspect the answer is “no” since he hasn’t scored in the UCL).
The Foxes’ doubled the lead just five minutes later. Lookman laid a perfect through ball into the path of Tielemans. The Belgium man fired in a low shot that Carlgren did well to parry, but in doing so, he found Daka, who slid it home with an instinctive first touch. Was he offside? Oh, probably so, but one of the Grand Traditions of the Europa Conference League is: No VAR allowed.
Patson Daka can't stop scoring on Thursday night's pic.twitter.com/naAeYO9cgx— GOAL Africa (@GOALAfrica) February 17, 2022
I guess we need to keep playing in Thursday competitions. We were made for the Europa Conference League!
Rodgers decided to make his first changes on 65’, introducing Kelechi Iheanacho for goalscorers Ndidi and Daka. The attacking nature of the substitutions suggested that the manager felt there were more goals to be had. Very astute lad, that Brendan.
Dewsbury-Hall finally got the goal he so richly deserved, but it was largely due to some yeoman work by Iheanacho and Lookman. The Seniorman latched on to a long ball forward and somehow bundled through two defenders. He found Lookman in acres of space on the right. The winger faked a cross, got past his defender, and centred for KDH, whose first touch saw him sidefoot the ball inside the far post.
There was a scary moment when Madders went down off the ball and required no small amount of treatment before leaving the pitch under his own power. Rodgers was already planning another double substitution but quickly changed it to a triple change. Hamza Choudhury, Ayoze Perez, and Boubacary Soumare entered the fray at the expense of Maddison, Barnes, and Dewsbury-Hall.
The job now was to see out the match and avoid any injuries. Unfortunately, this mission was only half-accomplished as Cags came down awkwardly following an aerial challenge. He was unable to continue and made his way directly down the tunnel following a lengthy spell of treatment.
In spite of being down to ten men, they were the only side threatening to score. Iheanacho got loose on the right and stood up a perfect cross for Lookman, but the former Fulham man contrived to head wide with the goalmouth at his mercy. That proved the last meaningful action and City ran out worthy winners by a not-at-all-flattering margin.
More of that, please. Well, more of the scoring, but do not expect to see a back line of Amartey, Vestergaard, Cags, and Albrighton anytime soon even if they did get the job done. Randers offered very little going forward and the defenders did a fine job shielding Schmeichel. In attack, we probably offered more in the first 45 minutes but had less to show for it. Funny old game, but in the end, the scoreline was a pretty fair reflection of how the match was played.
The win gives us a perfect record in the Europa Conference League and, more seriously, a pretty comfortable margin going into the return leg when we travel to East Jutland in one week’s time. Before that, we face off against Wolves on Sunday at Molineaux in the Premier League.