Premier League Week 27 04/03/2017
Leicester 3(Fuchs 27, Mahrez 59, Huddlestone OG 90) Hull City 1(Clucas 14)
Leicester followed on from their scintillating win over Liverpool on Monday with a gutsy comeback against Hull in a crucial relegation six-pointer. It seems finally that the form of last season has returned at just the right time and certainly does Craig Shakespeare’s managerial prospects no harm in a week where the massively unpopular name of Roy Hodgson has been thrown around.
The memories of the opening day of the season were fresh in the minds of many foxes fans before Saturday’s vital fixture. A humiliating defeat against the newly promoted tigers in hindsight was a sign of things to come. Leicester’s new signings, especially Luis Hernandez, were very poor and were beaten by a Hull side in disarray, with no full-time manager and only 13 first team players. In the months since, both sides have changed their manager and have seen a slight upturn in performances and a win for either would hoist them clear of the relegation places. The definition of a six-pointer and both sides played to win.
Just like on Monday night, Leicester started quickly. Vardy, frustrated by Harry Maguire in the middle, was even more of a threat down the left wing and almost set up Marc Albrighton for the opener. His left-footed cross was inches away from being turned in by the former Villa winger, but desperate defending from Maguire and Andrew Robertson denied him his first league goal of the season. The foxes were dominant, but it was the visitors who took the lead against the run of play after 14 minutes after Robert Huth had a shot charged down and Wilfred Ndidi misplaced a pass, Sam Clucas broke clear to play in Niasse. He laid the ball on to Kamil Grosicki who pulled it back for Clucas, a former Leicester academy player, to bundle it into the net, giving Hull hope for their first away win since August.
A shock for the hosts, who in previous games might have capitulated and conceded a couple more, but they rolled up their sleeves and got back into the game. As soon as Hull’s goal had gone in, the visiting fans cheers were drowned out by the home support, desperately encouraging their players to come back. It took them less than 15 minutes to level the scores. Some neat interplay on the left between Christian Fuchs and Vardy sent the England man through again. He calmly pulled the ball back to Fuchs who coolly slotted the ball home, although Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic probably should have done better, letting the shot squirm underneath his body into the net. Leicester pushed on looking for a second and it was Vardy who nearly created it again. The Hull defence simply couldn’t handle the City striker, who beat the offside trap and fired the ball across goal towards Albrighton, who just couldn’t quite get on the end of it, the score one apiece at the break.
Whilst it seemed like only a matter of time for the hosts, it was Hull who nearly regained their lead at the start of the second half. Harry Maguire, a player surely destined for one of the top sides next season, diverted Grosicki’s corner goalwards, but a helpless Kasper Schmeichel was relieved to see the ball strike the outside of the post and go wide. From then on, Leicester pressed and pressed, Riyad Mahrez looking back to his best, forcing Jakupovic into a near post save before finally firing Leicester into the lead. Some spellbinding wizardry from the Algerian had three hull defenders all over the place trying to block his dummied shots, before he struck the ball beautifully with his right foot to beat Jakupovic low down to the goalkeeper’s left. Again, the Hull keeper will feel he could have done better, but it was fantastic skill by Mahrez, his first league goal from open play since April and the first time Leicester have come back from a goal down to lead a league game since March.
Vardy threatened a third and Hull were being pinned back, but they again nearly grabbed an equaliser with 10 minutes to go. Oumar Niasse found space on the edge of the box to fire in a low shot, but Schmeichel got just enough onto it the tip the ball around his near post. Leicester though still looked confident and made it 3-1 in the last minute of normal time. Substitute Demari Gray forced Jakupovic into a smart save at his near post and from the resulting corner Ndidi headed Albrightons corner into the back of Tom Huddlestone, who could do nothing as the ball bounced off him into the net. A totally different type of performance to Monday night, but the same score line and the same crucial three points sees Leicester five points above the drop zone. With winnable home games against Sunderland and Stoke on the horizon, the blues can taste safety.
Unfortunately, the positivity of the performance cannot be appreciated by everyone. With the sacking of the popular Claudio Ranieri, some pundits have turned on Leicester, questioning the supposed sudden turnaround in the effort of the players and the character of Craig Shakespeare. There’s no doubt that the players are pressing more and probably cover more distance on average, but is this down solely to effort or due to tactics Ranieri would not employ? There have been many rumours of Ranieri refusing to allow pressing in the opposition half or for the full-backs to advance too much. Would Fuchs have been in the position to score his goal a month or two ago? It’s up for debate.
Whilst the effort and tactics can be questioned, the morals Craig Shakespeare cannot. Martin Keown claimed the Caretaker Manager was ‘out of order’ for wanting the managerial position and Chris Sutton referred to him as ‘Craig Snakespeare’. With all due respect, if you’re going to comment on someone’s integrity, at least get your facts straight. When Robbie Savage has to correct you on your punditry, you really need to take a look in the mirror. Craig Shakespeare is in his 8th season at the club. He joined with Nigel Pearson when the club were in the third tier and came back in 2011 whilst they were struggling in the Championship. But of course, Keown and Sutton wouldn’t know that, as I doubt they were following the foxes in those days like some of us and wouldn’t care if that’s where we end up. The former looked incredibly sheepish when Gary Lineker and Danny Murphy corrected him on Match of the Day. Why on earth should Shakespeare have left with Ranieri? Why shouldn’t he want to manage the Premier League Champions? In an era where pundits constantly complain about the lack of opportunities for English coaches, surely a man who has seemingly turned around Leicester’s fortunes should be given a chance at least until the end of the season. He’s certainly the fans choice (no one wants Roy Hodgson) and is clearly a good coach having briefly assisted Sam Allardyce with England. Then again, no one will replace Ranieri in the eyes of the neutral, who only saw a charming, likeable man who won the league, not the frustrating ridiculous tactics and signings which could have taken Leicester down. Personally, I hope Shakespeare gets the job and maybe the foxes will prove the pundits wrong for the third season in a row.
Leicester: Schmeichel 7, Fuchs 8, Morgan 7, Huth 7, Simpson 7, Mahrez 8 (Gray 70, 6) Drinkwater 8, Ndidi 7, Albrighton 7, Okazaki 7 (Slimani 83, 5) Vardy 8.5 MOTM
Hull: Jakupovic 4, Elmohamady 5, Maguire 7, Ranocchia 5, Robertson 6, Huddlestone 5, Markovic 5 (Diomande 78, 5) N’Diaye 5 (Hernandez 68, 5), Grosicki 6, Clucas 7, Niasse 5
Man of the Match: Jamie Vardy
Referee: Mike Dean 8, was pretty good overall, good use of advantage at times