npower Championship leaders Leicester City maintained their 100 per cent home record with a narrow victory over Brighton & Hove Albion at King Power Stadium.
Andy King’s early goal was enough to see the Foxes to a sixth win in six home games, but they needed a superb penalty save from Kasper Schmeichel to help them on their way.
Against a Brighton side whose quality in possession and organisation in defence was always likely to make them a tough proposition, this was not always the free-flowing City side that have stormed to the top of the table in recent weeks.
But the hunger and determination they showed to keep a clean sheet after King’s 10th-minute opener – never more so than when Schmeichel denied Ashley Barnes after Zak Whitbread’s foul on Will Buckley early in the second half – had the hallmarks of potential promotion contenders.
After a hard earned draw at St Andrews on Saturday, Nigel Pearson named an unchanged team to maintain the City’s impressive home record.
City hounded the Brighton goalmouth early on, coming closest in the sixth minute – Martyn Waghorn wrapping his left foot round the ball from a free kick 30 yards from goal, testing but not beating the talented Tomasz Kuszczak.
Only one outcome was likely as Leicester forced attempt after attempt on goal – King broke through the middle, set up by David Nugent, and slotted in.
His first attempt was blocked by a firm challenge from Gordon Greer, but the ball fell kindly for the Wales international, and he curled in from deep inside the area – just 10 minutes gone.
“We’re Leicester and we’re top of the league” roared out of King Power Stadium as its biggest crowd of the season spurred on the Blues.
Waghorn had the chance to make it 2-0, but spurned his opportunity, as Ritchie De Laet’s impressive wing work set up the forward.
Gus Poyet’s men have been more comfortable on the road with three wins and a draw from six, but Leicester’s 100 per cent home record was the superior determiner.
Anthony Knockaert was never too far from the sharp end of the Foxes attack, running the right wing; even with him facing the experienced former Chelsea full back Wayne Bridge. The Frenchman is often the creator of his own chances and proved so midway through the first half.
He found plenty of space on the edge of the area by gliding past Liam Bridcutt in central midfield, not before collecting Waghorn’s composed chest lay-off, and firing a strike which was again beaten away by Kuszczak.
Loose possession late in the first half could have dampened City’s mood going into the break, but Craig Mackail-Smith could only muster a weak attempt that Schmeichel was comfortably alert to.
An early goal was the last thing Gus Poyet would have wanted his side to concede but, more worryingly, would be the statistic that the hosts are yet to lose after going ahead this season – a daunting task lay ahead for the visitors at half-time.
The Seagulls applied plenty of pressure on the City back four come the second half - a hefty challenge from Wes Morgan which cut out a goal-bound surge from Mackail-Smith was the pick of the Foxes’ defending.
Top-scorer David Nugent then tested Kuszczak with a curling attempt, showing signs that the Blues were finally coming into the second half.
But just as Leicester were finding their feet, Whitbread was judged to have brought down Will Buckley in the box and the midfielder was awarded a penalty.
Barnes stepped up, placing his spot-kick in the bottom right-hand corner, but Schmeichel picked his side and denied the visitors an equaliser – Morgan doing enough to deny Barnes from the follow-up.
The performance from City warranted all three points, but the killer second goal seemed destined to elude them.
Ben Marshall, who scored the late equaliser against Birmingham, entered play with 20 minutes remaining in place of Waghorn and his pace and skill troubled Brighton from the right.
From this, Morgan managed to find himself deep in the opposition area, nailing a sweet volley that surely would have gone in if it were not for King’s accidental block.
Final attacks, inspired by Cruyff turns and Rabona kicks from Knockaert, were broken down in the final stages.
But City were happy to keep the ball deep in the opposition area and only a 93rd minute effort from Barnes could have spoilt it late on.
It was the early King goal that ultimately won Pearson’s men the match, but a superb team performance, both defensively and up front, contributed to earning the three points.
Whitbread will thank Schmeichel for his penalty save, but his performance next to Morgan in central defence helped his team maintain their early lead.
Despite Cardiff scoring a late winner against Watford, Leicester remain top of the npower Championship on goal difference.
With a 100 per cent home record still intact, City have turned King Power Stadium into a fortress where they look to be capable of seeing off any side. Certainly, the input of this season’s highest crowd helped.
Crystal Palace will be next to attempt to breach the keep this coming Saturday.
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet (Moore 56), Morgan (c), Whitbread, Konchesky; Knockaert, King, Drinkwater, Dyer; Waghorn (Marshall 71), Nugent (Vardy 68).
Unused subs: Logan, James, Schlupp, Futacs.
Goals: King 10
Booked: De Laet
Brighton (4-3-3): Kuszczak; Bruno, Greer (c), El-Abd, Bridge; Bridcutt, Crofts (Hammond 78), Dicker (Dobbie 60); Buckley, Mackail-Smith, Barnes.
Unused subs: Dunk, Calderon, Ankergren, Lopez, Lualua
Attendance: 25,726 (635 away)
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)