Leicester missed out on the chance to put pressure on the npower Championship’s faltering top two as they were edged out by Millwall at the The Den.
Substitute Chris Taylor tapped in the only goal of the game on 67 minutes after excellent work from Liam Trotter, as the Lions continued their impressive ascent through the division.
Following their first defeat in 14 games at Ipswich Town last week, Kenny Jackett’s men were back to their industrious best on their own patch, coping manfully with City’s early energy before making the most of their best spell shortly after half-time.
The Foxes started brightly, but struggled to find their usual passing rhythm on a difficult surface and, despite a late siege, were left to reflect on a defeat that keeps them five points behind the automatic promotion places, despite the top two both dropping points.
Against a side hot on their heels in the race for a top-six place, City were showing just the solitary change from the 2-2 draw with Barnsley last week – Jamie Vardy coming in up front for Martyn Waghorn, who had his appendix out in midweek.
But if the Foxes were meant to be intimidated by the infamous Millwall ‘Wall of Sound’, they did now show it in the early stages. First to loose balls, pressing with intensity and quick from the restarts, they sought a tempo even quicker than that of their uncompromising hosts.
Vardy was particularly hard-working, chasing lost causes and proving a nuisance to the less-mobile combination of Danny Shittu and Mark Beevers in the Lions defence. The recalled striker produced a lovely lay-off for Andy King on 10 minutes, but the Welshman was denied by Shane Lowry’s timely block on the edge of the box.
It was rarely cultured – more fire and brimstone than invention and craft – and the temperature rose sharply on 19 minutes when Wes Morgan’s foul on former Fox Dany N’Guessan was followed by a mild altercation between David Nugent and Jimmy Abdou.
But early sights of goal on a firm, bobbling pitch were minimal. N’Guessan wasted one of the hosts’ best on 29 minutes, heading Scott Malone’s free-kick over from seven yards.
And though Trotter made a better job of Chris Wood’s knockdown three minutes later, pressure from Ritchie De Laet and the reflexes of Kasper Schmeichel kept the midfielder at bay.
City were holding their own, though, and were unlucky not to hit the front eight minutes before half-time. Vardy, foraging down the left, produced a well-weighted cross to the far post, Nugent struck a sweet volley from a tight angle and Lions ‘keeper David Forde made an instinctive save with his legs.
N’Guessan was struggling to get any change out of the resolute Morgan, but forced a scrambling save from Schmeichel in first-half stoppage time with an improvised shot from the right.
The interval brought little change, as both sides started the second period showing little faith in the pitch, hooking balls round corners rather than chancing fate with the surface. It made for a game that favoured the hosts, whose primary threat was coming down the left through Lowry and the recently-introduced Taylor.
Twice Lowry produced dangerous, swinging crosses from the left-back position. The first was just out of reach for the stretching Wood. The second was side-footed over by the Kiwi striker.
But the threat from the Lions was growing and they took the lead on 67 minutes with a fine passing move that opened City up down the Foxes’ right-hand side.
Trotter was the goal’s primary architect, roaming out of his usual space in the middle of the park and exchanging neatly with substitute Andy Keogh down the left. With bodies arriving in the centre, Trotter simply had to pick the right option and laid it on a plate for Taylor to tap home.
Pearson sought a quick response. Having already introduced Ben Marshall, he reached for Matty James and Marko Futacs as the visitors switched to a 4-3-3.
But Millwall’s defensive ranks were well organised, marshalled by the bulldozing Shittu, whose battle with Futacs would be a key one in the game’s closing stages.
Marshall attempted a dipping, swerving free-kick from 35 yards that Forde desperately clung to with white shirts closing in on him.
Nugent dragged a shot wide from the left side of the box with seconds of normal time remaining, before substitute Shaun Batt wasted the chance to settle it when he over-hit a cross for Keogh in stoppage time.
And they were nearly made to pay for it in the game’s dying embers, when a desperately advanced Morgan pulled down a high ball before firing into the arms of Forde.
City remain very much in the shake-up, but will be keen to avoid losing further ground next weekend when leaders Cardiff come to King Power Stadium.
Millwall (4-4-2): Forde; A. Smith, Shittu (c), Beevers, Lowry; Henry, Trotter, Abdou, Malone (C. Taylor 46); Wood (Batt 79), N’Guessan (Keogh 66).
Unused subs: M. Taylor, Wright, Feeney, J. Smith.
Goals: C. Taylor 67
Booked: Abdou, Keogh
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan (c), Whitbread, Konchesky; Knockaert (Marshall 64), King (James 70), Drinkwater, Dyer (Futacs 70); Nugent, Vardy.
Unused subs: Logan, Schlupp, Moore, Lingard.
Booked: Nugent, Knockaert, Futacs
Referee: Simon Hooper