Steve Bruce has faced all kinds of flak this season but one quality he undoubtedly possesses is resilience. Thanks to this win Newcastle will almost certainly be in the Premier League again next season, for better or worse. Leicester’s staying power, on the other hand, is wide open to question once more after a jittery performance that leaves them at risk of letting Champions League qualification slip through their fingers for the second season in a row.
Brendan Rodgers’ team are still in the top four but to avoid the pain and embarrassment of dropping out again they may need to win their three remaining league fixtures, which are against Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, with the FA Cup final in between. They had hoped to drain as much stress as possible from those meetings by dispatching Newcastle. Instead they self-destructed.
The club’s owner, Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabh, was able to fly in from Thailand to watch a match at the King Power for the first time since February 2020. He bore witness to Leicester’s most disjointed and timorous performance in a season in which they have lost nine times at home. In none of the previous defeats have they defended as incompetently as they did this time.
Late goals by Marc Albrighton and Kelechi Iheanacho brought no consolation whatever to hosts who flirted with slapstick as Joe Willock and Paul Dummett scored for the visitors before Callum Wilson added two more.
“It was a game in which we made so many mistakes and you can’t afford to do that,” said Rodgers. “It was uncharacteristic. It’s a period of the season where we need to be super concentrated; you are very close to achieving what you want to achieve. We lacked concentration. It’s very frustrating when you know the players we have.”
The first sign that things would not go to that plan for Leicester came when Jonny Evans injured his foot in the warm-up. Albrighton was drafted in at left wing-back while Timothy Castagne shifted to central defence.
The other problem was that Newcastle had not come to act as bystanders. They defended strongly and counter-attacked fast. Leicester looked skittish without Evans at the back. Only a magnificent save by Kasper Schmeichel prevented Allan Saint-Maximin from firing the visitors into the lead in the 15th minute at the end of a counter-attack launched by Jacob Murphy and Wilson, whose pass left the Frenchman with a free shot from eight yards. The goalkeeper could not repeat the feat five minutes later when Caglar Soyuncu miscontrolled the ball outside his own area, allowing Willock to pounce and slot expertly into the net from 12 yards.
Martin Dubravka foiled Wesley Fofana’s attempt to plunder an immediate equaliser, batting away the defender’s close-range header. That was the first of several fine saves by Dubravka, who later denied Iheanacho, Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Pérez.
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Newcastle extended their lead thanks to an unlikely scorer, as Dummett outjumped Fofana to head home a cornert. It was Dummett’s first goal since January 2016.
Rodgers’ men emerged much sharper after the interval, forcing Newcastle to defend with iron resolve. Leicester had to work hard for their chances. James Maddison had a free-kick deflected just wide in the 54th minute and Wilfred Ndidi’s header from the resultant corner missed by inches. Then Leicester’s defence fell apart again. Castagne failed to cut out a long pass from the back by Matt Ritchie, merely prodding it into the path of Wilson. The striker made him pay with an immaculate finish, then made it 4-0 by running on to a pass by Miguel Almirón and finishing smartly after his first shot rebounded off a post.
Leicester rallied, with Albrighton and Iheanacho each finding the net with crisp, angry shots. But Newcastle made sure they got over the line. “That’s probably as good as we’ve played in the two years since I’ve been here,” said Bruce. “I really enjoyed watching us.”
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