A brace from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall over a late 10-minute spell overturned Kyle McFadzean’s opener at the climax of a pulsating derby-day encounter in the new Manager's first competitive game in charge.
"The feeling was unbelievable," Maresca said afterwards, reflecting on the joyous celebrations at full-time. "It gave us three points. I really appreciated the first half of the game. We created chances and arrived in the final third. I’m quite happy. It’s never easy to win games especially against a team like the team we faced today. Less than two months ago, [Coventry] were in the final to get promoted. They’re a very good team with good organisation, so I'm happy."
Beforehand, Filbert Way was full to the brim, the Blue Army as loud as ever. The Club naturally wants to keep the length of their stay in the second tier to a minimum, but one thing’s clear on this showing. They’re up for the fight. New signings Mads Hermansen, Callum Doyle, Harry Winks and Stephy Mavididi all started, as did youngster Kasey McAteer, making his full league debut for Leicester. The sun shone for City’s opening day clash and it was an entertaining start to the new campaign.
A full-house greets the Foxes as they take to the field.
Leicester started brightly, although it took them seven minutes to test Ben Wilson in the Sky Blues net. After composed build-up play, Dewsbury-Hall skid a low drive straight at the visiting ‘keeper. Gustavo Hamer’s corner was bothersome 10 minutes in. The Netherlands international swung it in and, although nobody got a touch, it could have nestled into the top corner without one. Hermansen, the former Brøndby shot-stopper, was relieved to see it fly by the far post in any case. There was an intensity to Leicester’s play. They didn’t want Coventry to settle. A fluid system, which demands moves start at the back, saw Ricardo Pereira occupy central areas of play. As we’ve seen over pre-season, Wilfred Ndidi drove forwards through the middle too. Wilson had to be on his toes early on, especially when Ricardo volleyed it straight at him from 25 yards out.
The Sky Blues had an impressive spell midway into the half. Firstly, Ricardo had to snatch the ball away from the feet of Ellis Simms at the last moment, before Kasey Palmer curled over from the outskirts of Leicester’s box. Doyle, the former Coventry loanee who's now spending a year with the Foxes, nearly had his dream debut moment half an hour in. Mavididi’s corner was deep and there was City’s new No.5 to head it goalwards. Wilson did very well indeed, though, to tip it around the post for a corner. The game was bubbling away. For the neutral, this would have been all good fun. For those in the stands, it was a tense and nervy way to begin a new season. The tackles were flying in and the fans were on their feet, urging the Foxes forwards.
You need to be mentally strong. I think the guys showed that absolutely. To win a game like to today, they showed great effort.Enzo Maresca
Two new boys, Winks and Mavididi, treated the home support to glimpses of their quality. Winks’ deft touch under pressure relieved the tension at the back, before Mavididi recovered from a heavy touch, dragging the ball back, spinning on the spot, and taking out two markers in the process. It’s those moments which help new players fit in. Wout Faes, on the other hand, was in good form and he charged forwards out of nowhere late on in the half. He just kept running. The ball was with Mavididi, who squared it into the box, where Faes was lurking. Joel Latibeaudiere was the one Coventry player not fazed by the new variable to contend with and got in the way. At the other end, Winks hurled himself in front of Palmer’s shot. The resulting corner turned into pinball. Simms’ effort hit Faes. McFadzean struck Doyle. By any means possible, the Foxes kept it out.
There was almost a sting in the tail inside first-half stoppage time. Ricardo’s diagonal, low ball was perfect for McAteer. The former Forest Green Rovers loanee’s eyes lit up. He did everything right. His touch was solid and his shot powerful, on target too. The angle was tight, though, and Wilson was able to palm it away.
Enzo Maresca demanded a lot of his players over the near 100-minute game on Filbert Way.
Straight into the second half, Hamer looped the ball over the backline and Simms was away. Instead of carrying the ball forwards, the Coventry man hit it first time – high and wide. It ended up being a precursor to the opener, however. A Hamer corner was whipped in at the near post and McFadzean leapt highest to bullet it past Hermansen. It was City’s punishment for a slow start after the break. This was turning into a real test of Leicester's mettle.
"There are many, many, many things to improve as soon as we can, for sure," Maresca reflected. "In the first half, the team showed at least what we’re looking for. The dynamic then changed completely (after Coventry's goal). I’m sure that if we scored instead, we’d be even better than in the first half. They’re human beings and they react. You need to be mentally strong. I think the guys showed that absolutely. To win a game like today, they showed great effort."
The route to three points was a winding one. Hermansen got down well shortly after Coventry's goal to stop Simms from picking out the bottom corner on the breakaway. Matt Godden then fired Josh Eccles’ drag-back straight at the Foxes stopper. A crucial moment, keeping Coventry within a single goal. Just after the hour, Jannik Vestergaard stretched all of his 6ft 6in frame to get to Dewsbury-Hall’s free-kick. The Dane, though, could only direct it towards the side netting. Hermansen, on the other hand, then made a superb stop to deny Godden from doubling the Sky Blues’ advantage. The striker had got through the defensive lines, but found Hermansen in his way. Godden was played through again by Hamer as well, but scuffed his effort wide. Wilson then stopped Jamie Vardy from tucking the ball at the bottom near post. Coventry were a real nuisance on the counter. Vestergaard and Doyle went in the book for bringing down attackers before they could gather any steam.
I told [Dewsbury-Hall] that he has better quality to score more goals and make more passes for his team-mates. The only way to do it is to arrive into the box. He scores because he was there.Enzo Maresca
Mercifully, the leveller came on 76 minutes. Madividi’s skill freed him up down the left. He carried it for a bit, before locating Winks. The former Tottenham Hotspur man, capped 10 times for England, surged forwards. Dennis Praet, a second-half substitute, was in space on the right – and Winks spotted him. The Belgium international looked up and crossed, right onto the head of Dewsbury-Hall. The Leicester lad was there to cushion the ball into the bottom corner. King Power Stadium burst in relief and the Foxes faithful wanted more. They nearly had it, too, when Kelechi Iheanacho – another off the bench – skipped into the area. He couldn’t plot a route through, but it came to Dewsbury-Hall. His hit bulged only the side netting.
An almighty reminder of Coventry’s threat was around the corner. Haji Wright, the American international they signed in midweek, galloped through unchallenged. Doyle did all his could to keep up. Now in royal blue, he didn’t give in. Just as Wright pulled the trigger, Doyle struck out a desperate leg. Hermansen got a fingertip to it as well. That was just enough to divert the shot onto the crossbar. Hermansen was still on the deck by the time it bobbled to Godden, who scuffed wide. In a flash, Filbert Way was bouncing. Leicester were in front. Patient play eventually led to Madividi holding it in the box. He fed Dewsbury-Hall and the Academy graduate launched it past Wilson and into the top corner. Maresca led the celebrations, leaping for joy on the sidelines, as the terraces exploded with joy.
The capacity crowd went home happy after a last-gasp winner from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.
"At the beginning of pre-season, when I checked the numbers in terms of goals, I told [Dewsbury-Hall] that he has better quality to score more goals and make more passes for his team-mates," Maresca explained. "The only way to do it is to arrive into the box. He scores because he was there."
Dewsbury-Hall's goals would prove to be just enough for the home side. Over nine minutes of added time, the Foxes dug in. They did what needed to be done by whatever means possible. The Championship was always going to be this. It will be so again many times over the next 45 matchdays. The first three points are in the bag.
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