A Kelechi Iheanacho penalty and Timothy Castagne’s crisp finish to a flowing move overturned Matheus Cunha’s opener to seal all three points for the Foxes in Dean Smith’s home debut as the Club’s new Manager.
Ahead of a huge run-in of fixtures, City finally have optimism for the challenges to come. They had lost eight in nine games before this outing, but Smith’s appointment has created a swell of positivity around the Football Club. That elusive ingredient – hope – is back on Filbert Way. Ahead of his 600th match in a dugout, Smith named a bold XI – with room for forwards Iheanacho, Tetê, Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy in a 4-2-3-1 system. A banner in the Spion Kop read: ‘who dares wins’. It was certainly a daring selection. Leicester’s mission is now clear – they need points as soon as possible. They have the games to get them too, but it has to be soon. The Foxes faithful were once again doing their bit in the stands. This was the entire Club rising to the task at hand and taking a giant first step towards achieving its objectives.
Less than three minutes in, Wolves were cut open. Iheanacho slid the ball through to Vardy. City’s No.9 – on his 301st Premier League appearance – squared it to Tetê. The Brazilian, however, found Toti in his way. Julen Lopetegui has inspired a revival of sorts in the West Midlands. Wins over Chelsea and Brentford have propelled Wanderers up the table. A reminder of their threat came from an unlikely source minutes later when Craig Dawson blazed over from the outskirts of City’s box. Pablo Sarabia drilled wide for the visitors too. Errors have cost Leicester dearly this season and another one haunted them on 13 minutes.
Youri Tielemans was dispossessed in the final third by Mario Lemina, who fed Cunha for a simple finish into Daniel Iversen’s bottom right corner. Relegation fights aren’t easy, nor are they simple. When all seems lost, hope reappears. When you’re riding high, you falter. These are the tides which City’s players and fans will have to ride between now and 28 May. A crucial block from Wout Faes to deny Cunha a second on 25 minutes typified the bravery and fighting spirit Smith’s men will need over the next month. More last-ditch action was required, first from Çağlar Söyüncü and then Faes again to stop powerful hits from Sarabia and Dawson. That early attacking intent had been replaced by a desperate need to keep Wolves at bay.
From nowhere, however, the tide turned. Leicester broke at speed, with Iheanacho threading the ball through to Vardy. The iconic No.9 galloped through and tried to take it around Jose Sá, the Wolves goalkeeper, inside the area. Sá clipped Vardy’s ankle though, and referee Andrew Madley had no choice but to point to the penalty spot. With Vardy still receiving treatment off the pitch, it was Iheanacho to step up. Filbert Way held its breath and the man they call Seniorman puffed his chest out, held his nerve, and stroked it beyond Sá. The match was on a knife-edge, but City had weathered this particular storm. Contentious decisions were whipping the home faithful up. Not everything was working out, but Leicester were fighting.
With seconds to spare before the break, there was one final, agonising chance. Iheanacho’s fine curler, from the angle of the Wolves box, was palmed by Sá into Daka’s path. The Zambian couldn’t beat the shot-stopper from point-blank range, though. There’d been scary moments, but applause rung in the City players’ ears at half-time. Not being behind for the start of the second half felt key. It offered a chance to attack the next 45. Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was also on, replacing Vardy. And the Academy graduate almost put the fans into raptures inside five minutes, fizzing the ball just wide from range.
There were nerves again on 53 minutes. Diego Costa’s cross was cut out by Victor Kristiansen, but the Dane inadvertently gave it to Cunha. A raised linesman’s flag was Leicester’s reprieve, although Iversen at least made the initial stop. There were heads in hands soon after. City, in a 4-3-3 shape, leapt into action. It came to Daka, on the left-hand side. His drilled effort bounced up off Sá’s legs and into Dewsbury-Hall, who knocked it over the crossbar. Second-half Wolves substitute Rúben Neves nearly punished the hosts, whipping a free-kick narrowly over on the hour. The Foxes were playing some of the best football they have in a long time and Söyüncü was desperately unlucky when he cannoned the ball straight at Sá from a Tetê corner.
Leicester’s goal, in the 75th minute, was brilliant and deserved. Silky football down the left channel started with Boubakary Soumaré’s excellent forward ball and ended with Kristiansen’s laser-beam pass being rattled into the far corner by Castagne. The lid flew off King Power Stadium – and nobody could dispute it was a fitting reward for City’s second-half display. They had dug in, stood up to the challenge and been brave enough to play football in spite of everything.
Naturally, all focus quickly shifted on protecting that lead. Hwang Hee-Chan’s header nearly looped over Iversen, but didn’t. The ‘keeper was there again to superbly divert Neves’ next free-kick over the bar. Söyüncü then leapt through the air to block Neves’ 20-yard arrow. Just before five additional minutes commenced, the screens turned purple to indicate a VAR check was in progress. Faes might have handled the ball. The announcement that no penalty would be awarded, plus a rare home free-kick seconds later, had the crowd on their feet. Daka was then in on goal out of nowhere, but found Sá in his way.
These are the moments which can define escapes from relegation. By whatever means, do what needs to be done. With the rocking Filbert Way behind them, City were holding on. Neves volleyed off target. Max Killman nodded wide too. The roar when the whistle went was the loudest of the day. This win is huge for Leicester, but it needs to be the first of several more.
Major moment – Castagne's winner
Dean Smith can't hide his delight after Timothy Castagne's goal.
City were getting better and better in the early stages of the second half. It was brewing, but they couldn't find the goal which would seal their first win since February. The quality they needed arrived on 75 minutes, with Timothy Castagne finishing a superb breakaway.
Who impressed? – Superb Söyüncü
Çağlar Söyüncü was picked out by former City skipper Matt Elliott.
Matt Elliott, speaking on Matchday Live, said: "Çağlar Söyüncü was absolutely fantastic today. He did everything that was required of him."
Where does it leave us? – 17th in the table
Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates getting the Foxes back on level terms.
Leicester climb above the dotted line, into 17th. They're on 28 points, ahead of Everton on goal difference.
Coming up – Leeds (A), Everton (H)
Delight for Tetê after Timothy Castagne's winner.
The big games keep on coming for the Foxes. It's 16th-placed Leeds United next up at Elland Road on Tuesday, followed by 18th-placed Everton a week on Monday (both 8pm BST kick-off).
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