Leicester City and Newcastle United fought to a nil-nil draw on Monday evening at St. James’ Park. The Magpies dominated possession and hit the post three times, but in the last ten minutes, the Foxes were the only team in it and were unlucky not to come away with a late winner.
Sunday won't be stressful at all then pic.twitter.com/PnVRI9rBWX— Helen Thompson (@helsy33) May 22, 2023
Not even a little bit. Also, miss ya, Helen.
Manager Dean Smith made some big calls filling out his team sheet for the biggest match of the year (so far). James Maddison was dropped to the bench to make way for a third central defender in a 5-3-2 shape: Daniel Iversen, Timothy Castagne, Harry Souttar, Jonny Evans (C), Wout Faes, Luke Thomas, Boubakary Soumare, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Jamie Vardy.
The hosts had the better of the early exchanges, somehow managing to look dangerous on the counter-attack, when there were no City attacks to counter against. Referee Andre Marriner had a big decision to make just before the 10’ mark. Bruno Guimarães attempted to tackle Soumare, but got it all kinds of wrong and wound up just kicking the former Lille man, studs up, on the top of his knee. Marriner produced a yellow and VAR had a long look before determining that this was a sufficient punishment.
It was very much attack-against-defence as the Magpies had something north of 80% of the possession in the first half hour of the match, but the back five were absorbing everything the Tynesiders threw at them. Leicester had yet to have a shot, but they restricted their Champions League-bound hosts to only three efforts, only one of which was on target.
The Foxes were first truly tested on the 40’ mark. Iheanacho gave the ball away in midfield, allowing the hosts to win a corner. Iversen challenged Dan Burn for a ball at the near post and spilt it directly to Callum Wilson. The striker’s effort came off the post and was headed back to Wilson by Evans. The subsequent header was on target, but it was cleared off the line by Ndidi and the danger passed.
The half ended with a flurry from the Geordies, bringing their totals up to 14 shots, but only 2 of which were on frame and both dealt with by Iversen. The Foxes, having only 17% of the possession, failed to attempt a shot on goal or otherwise This was clearly Smith’s plan going into the match and, while you might argue there was an element of luck to it, it worked. Forty-five minutes to rescue the season. All the time in the world.
The gaffer made one change at the half, replacing Iheanacho with James Maddison in an effort to get a little more possession. Nothing greatly changed as the shape remained the same and thus so did the run of play. Newcastle poured forward in numbers and Leicester struggled to string passes together.
On the hour, Alexander Isak hit a fine strike on the volley that Iversen did well to turn over the bar. Smith took that as a sign to make his move. He withdrew Vardy and Evans and threw Harvey Barnes and Patson Daka into the fray. This marked the end to the five-at-the-back formation as the Foxes presumably shifted to a 4-5-1? Let’s call it that even though giving it a name implies more organisation that was actually present.
The Magpies somehow contrived not to score from another corner when it would have been far simpler to score. A corner was flicked on by Faes to the far corner, where Bruno Guimarães was literally holding the post. He got his head to the ball but put it against the bar when there was nothing but an empty net in front of him.
The Foxes finally had a spell of possession in the Newcastle half in the last ten minutes. It ultimately came to nothing, but not without a cost as Ndidi was forced to come off. Nampalys Mendy entered the match with just minutes to play. Five minutes of extra time were added and both sides looked more like they were more interested in avoiding a late loss than extending themselves to try to win it.
City finally got their first shot in the 93rd minute and on another day it would have been a match-winner. Madders fired in a cross from the right and Castagne met it on the volley with a powerful effort on target. Keeper Nick Pope dove to his right and just got a hand to it. The rebound almost fell to Souttar, but the Newcastle defence just managed to put it behind for a corner that ultimately came to nothing.
The whistle went, and, even though it was the best effort in recent memory, it was probably (but not certainly) all for naught.
A few more performances like that and we wouldn’t be in this position, huh? It wasn’t pretty, but there was a plan and everyone on the pitch was fully committed to making it work. It was a fine team effort, even if xG probably isn’t going to like way it looks (I haven’t looked yet).
Newcastle (2.28) 0-0 (0.08) Leicester— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) May 22, 2023
I’m not going to single any one player out because this was a team effort. Everyone gave their all. It may be too little and too late, but it was the fighting spirit we’ve been looking for. It’s just too bad that it probably won’t be enough.
The draw brings us up to 18th on the table with 31 points from 37 matches and, this bit is important, a -18 goal differential. We host West Ham United on Sunday and it is the very definition of “must win.” A draw or a loss relegates us. An Everton win relegates us. A win and anything less than a win by Everton and we stay up. Come on your Foxes!