Chris Wood continued his stunning start to life in Leicester blue with a first-half hat-trick, as the Foxes brushed aside struggling Bristol City to rise to third in the npower Championship.
The New Zealand international striker took his tally to six goals in three games since his arrival from West Bromwich Albion – tearing into his former club with three goals that effectively wrapped up the points for Nigel Pearson’s men before half-time.
The superb Matty James added to the scoring with his first league goal for the Club shortly after the break, but there was little need for the Foxes to exert themselves further, as they took full advantage of points dropped by their promotion rivals.
In truth, they could have had an awful lot more against one of the npower Championship’s most porous defences, but, with promotion rivals Middlesbrough to visit King Power Stadium on Friday, more significant tasks than extending their margin of victory lie in wait.
A side with only a couple of wins since the middle of September, the hosts, showing five changes from their last outing, never looked comfortable with Leicester’s fluid movement.
Despite being outnumbered in the middle of the park, James and Danny Drinkwater ran riot, needing only to complete simple exchanges to expose gaping holes between the lines.
Ben Marshall wandered freely from the left, while Anthony Knockaert threatened havoc down the right before his early withdrawal. Lloyd Dyer took over, given room to attack as and when he pleased.
The strong tackle from debutant Liam Kelly that led to Knockaert’s substitution was about the most convincing contribution made by anyone in red during the opening 45 minutes. They were behind on 11 minutes.
Exposed by Marshall’s simple pass into the inside-left channel, the Robins could not recover their defensive shape quickly enough, allowing Wood, who played 19 games on loan with Bristol City last season, to cut inside James Wilson and beat Dean Gerken for pace at his near post.
If Gerken, one of Robins boss Derek McInnes’ five changes, was possibly at fault for the first, he could not argue with his culpability for the Foxes’ second seven minutes later – flapping hopelessly at Marshall’s corner from the left. The ball broke unkindly off Liam Fontaine and the ravenous Wood slammed home from close range.
It took the home side 26 minutes to muster an attack. It came from Steven Davies’ right-wing corner, which curled right through the six-yard box untouched before Dyer cleared it off the line.
But they looked a side desperately lacking confidence, never more evident than when Dyer’s attempted corner routine gave Cole Skuse the chance to lead a break. Joined by Jon Stead in a two-against-two, the Robins’ skipper badly over-hit the pass and Paul Konchesky tidied up.
The groans of the home support weighed heavily on their side and they grew louder four minutes before the break as Wood piled further misery on them by completing his treble.
Holding off Stephen McManus before laying into the path of the excellent James, the big Kiwi found space on the edge of the box to accept the return pass, before drilling a shot through a gaping hole in Gerken’s defences.
The boos from the home support at the break were painful. Completely outclassed during a one-sided first period, McInnes’ men had the look of a side staring at the very real possibility of relegation. Things got little better after the interval.
Marshall squirted a shot wide within seconds of the restart after David Nugent’s break down the right, before Wood turned provider for James – laying off into the path of the breaking midfielder, who brushed off two red shirts before drilling across Gerken from 18 yards.
With the game won, Pearson’s men understandably took their foot off the gas, preserving energy for challenges ahead. Marshall struck a true, rising drive fractionally wide of Gerken’s left-hand upright, before Dyer shot wide following a masterful break from the all-action Drinkwater.
Bristol City’s first shot on target on 72 minutes – Paul Anderson’s effort after some good work from fellow sub Wes Burns down the right – brought a cheer of awkward irony. Skuse’s shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel moments later barely registered.
Promising youngster Burns continued to carry the fight for the home side into the closing stages, but the visitors never looked in trouble and coasted over the line effortlessly.
Next Friday’s visit of Middlesbrough suddenly looks a massive game in the race for promotion.
Bristol City (3-5-2): Gerken; Wilson (Burns 46), McManus, Fontaine; Foster, Kelly (Reid 78), Skuse, Pearson, Cunningham; Stead (Anderson 46), Davies.
Unused subs: Heaton, Taylor, Elliott, Bryan.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan (c), Keane, Konchesky; Knockaert (Dyer 20), Drinkwater, James, Marshall (Gallagher 74); Nugent, Wood (Waghorn 63).
Unused subs: King, Logan, Moore, Futacs.
Goals: Wood 11, 18, 41; James 51.
Attendance: 13,078 (1,786 away)
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)