Ben Marshall returned to Hillsborough with a bang as victory over his former club Sheffield Wednesday saw City climb to third in the npower Championship.
Back in Nigel Pearson’s starting eleven for the first time since the end of September, the talented forward created a first-half goal for Danny Drinkwater and scored a brilliant second 14 minutes from time, as the Foxes followed up their destruction of Ipswich with another impressive victory.
The 2-0 score-line hardly did City’s control of the game justice, as Pearson’s own return to a ground he played on so many times ended fruitfully.
Against a Wednesday side chronically short of confidence, they bossed the vast majority of the game up to and beyond Drinkwater’s well-taken opener and might have added to their advantage after Marshall’s spear-like strike.
But the two goals they did score were sufficient to build on the momentum of last week’s 6-0 home win and they will head to Leeds United on Tuesday confident they can continue their current winning sequence.
A week on from his side’s biggest league win in 30 years, Pearson introduced to his side two players familiar with this part of the world – Sheffield boy and Wednesday fan Jamie Vardy in attack and Marshall on the right side of midfield.
Both were willing runners in the early stages, chasing down full-backs and applying pressure to a defence hardly laden with confidence following a run of two wins in 15. In a cauldron of expectant Wednesdayites, it looked a ploy that would serve the Foxes well.
But few chances were yielded in the opening stages, as City patiently probed with possession as their primary weapon, while Dave Jones’ hosts made use of a powerful-looking line-up with a series of high balls into Kasper Schmeichel’s box.
Jay Bothroyd saw a shot deflect past a wrong-footed Schmeichel’s left-hand upright after Rhys McCabe had slid him into space down the right on nine minutes. Marshall provided an immediate response on the break, advancing onto his left foot after good work from Vardy and drawing a routine save from former City ‘keeper Chris Kirkland.
It was pretty attritional for a good half-an-hour, though City could justifiably claim to have had the better of things, consistently finding the mark with their passes and, in Drinkwater, boasting the game’s major protagonist.
Kirkland was spared embarrassment on the half-hour when Vardy was unable to capitalise on his avoidable collision with Owls defender Anthony Gardner inside the box.
But the former Foxes stopper could do nothing to deny the darting Drinkwater four minutes before the break – the former Manchester United midfielder exchanging cleverly with Marshall on the right corner of the penalty area before drilling a well-placed shot inside the far post from an increasingly tight angle.
It looked a familiar feeling for the home supporters, whose side were lacking any sort of confidence or genuine threat. Even when Gardner’s high ball into the City box escaped the clutches of Schmeichel in first-half stoppage time, Andy King’s defensive instincts were sharper than any forward in blue and white.
City started the second half with clear intentions to finish the home side off quickly – the in-roads of Lloyd Dyer allowing Vardy to tee up Marshall for a shot from the left which Lewis Buxton managed to deflect wide.
Marshall then sent a free header over from Martyn Waghorn’s searching corner, before Waghorn himself saw a powerful drive tipped over by Kirkland at full-stretch moments later.
Jones’ double change to introduce midfielder Chris Lines and striker Gary Madine in the ensuing minutes were those of a manager desperately looking for his side to get a foothold.
But they made little impact as City continued to look the more likely, breaking up Wednesday possession with ease and given time to pick their passes in attack.
The second goal came as no surprise as Dyer infiltrated in off the left flank in typical fashion, before feeding Waghorn, who instantly knew Marshall was arriving in space behind him.
With on-loan Manchester City full-back Jeremy Helan standing off him, Marshall shifted inside onto his left foot and sent a gorgeous curling shot out of Kirkland’s reach from 20 yards.
The celebrations were muted for a player who enjoyed a terrific spell on loan at Hillsborough during the first half of last season prior to joining City from Stoke. The home supporters repaid the gesture five minutes later with a standing ovation to salute Marshall’s late withdrawal.
Waghorn nearly extended the lead shortly before that, clipping the bar after being fed by a breaking Ritchie De Laet 10 minutes from time.
But it was De Laet’s work in his own box two minutes from time that summed up City’s determination to close out the game – diving bravely in front of Jermaine Johnson’s goal-bound shot to widespread appreciation from his team-mates.
City look a side on a roll. They head to Leeds on Tuesday looking very much the potential promotion contenders.
Wednesday (4-4-1-1): Kirkland; Buxton, Taylor (c), Gardner, Helan; Johnson, Semedo, McCabe (Lines 66), Antonio; Bothroyd (Madine 69); Sidibe (Rodri 75).
Unused subs: Bywater, Pecnik, Major, Jones.
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan (c), Whitbread, Schlupp; Marshall (Knockaert 81), Drinkwater, King, Dyer; Vardy (Futacs 77), Waghorn (Lingard 86).
Unused subs: Logan, Konchesky, James, Moore, Lingard.
Goals: Drinkwater 41, Marshall 76
Booked: Whitbread, Schlupp
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)
Attendance: 24,664 (3,803 away)