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It was never going to be a classic, Newcastle’s involvement put an end to any idea of that, but Leicester’s trip to St James’ Park on Sunday was important.
It represented the Foxes’ best chance of securing three points for some time. Over the next month, your match list will be a grim read. After facing a resurgent Stoke City in the FA Cup, Leicester take on Southampton, Chelsea and Everton, before finally ending a difficult January with a trip to Elland Road to face Leeds.
At least the prospects for the Newcastle game couldn’t have been much better. The Foxes had brought home three points during each of their last four trips to the Magpies, and their road record this season is the best in the Premier League.
This season’s developments also suggested that Leicester had no reason to fear Newcastle’s infamous low blocking. Once their Achilles heel, wins over Burnley and Sheffield United, as well as their near-flawless Europa League record, suggest that the Foxes are slowly getting more comfortable by winning victories against teams that like to defend in depth.
Despite all these reasons for optimism, Leicester’s first-half display lacked inventiveness and cunning. After James Maddison fired a wide shot in the early exchanges, Leicester’s wide possession gave few chances.
Jamie Vardy made a few warning shots, putting the ball in the back of the net at one point, but even he was struggling, poorly timing his runs and being called offside twice. Maddison’s three corners didn’t lead to anything either, extending his team’s remarkable record of not scoring in a single set this season.
When the first half ended, despite registering 60% possession, Leicester appeared to be far from bringing down Newcastle.
At halftime, the Foxes appeared to get a much-needed shot in the arm. Whether due to one of Vardy’s diabolical alcopop-based creations slipping through the locker room, or simply reminding the player of his complicated roster of upcoming matches, Rodgers’ charges improved greatly after the break.
Creating more overloads in wide areas than they had in the first half and also moving the ball positively in midfield, it took them just 10 minutes to get their payoff. The move began with Harvey Barnes driving the ball forward fiercely in transition. He finally unloaded Vardy, who deftly cut into the area, before returning the ball to the advancing Maddison. He then produced a powerful blow, which was also accurate enough to warrant his bullseye celebration.
Leicester continued to build on their home advantage in the second half, doubling their lead with twenty minutes remaining. The second goal also became more seconds after a Newcastle loss, again proving the Foxes’ world-class counter-attacking ability.
This time around, Youri Tielemans was at the center of things, completing the tackle that started the move and then finishing it brilliantly. Meeting Marc Albrighton’s undercut without breaking stride, Tielemans fired a curly punch at Karl Darlow.
Andy Carroll’s late goal, again scored from a set piece, which is fast becoming a worrying trend for Leicester, made the final minutes jittery, but the 17-minute double saves in the second half would finally be enough. .
This result could be critical in the Leicester season. With such a tough game streak ahead of him, his top four credentials will be taken in depth in January. Getting a good start at St James’ Park will make Rodgers a very happy man.