Denied space and opportunities for long spells by the in-form Hertfordshire visitors, the Foxes stuck to the process and were finally rewarded in the 76th minute as Vardy prodded home the opener from close range, before hitting a penalty in added time. Hornets goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann’s late red card came after they had used all their substitutions, meaning centre-back Ryan Porteous was the man Vardy beat from 12 yards in the 95th minute. A 14th win of the season opens up a three-point lead over Ipswich Town, who travel to West Bromwich Albion later on Saturday evening. The cushion to third, on the other hand, now stands at 10 points, with Leeds United being held to a 1-1 draw by Rotherham United on Friday.
Before this match, the first since the international break, there was a return to Enzo Maresca's XI for Wilfred Ndidi, out since late October through injury, although it came at the expense of Harry Winks, who served a one-game suspension. As part of the Club’s backing for Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign – now in its 10th year of supporting LGBTQ+ communities across the country – each set of players took the knee ahead of kick-off to reinforce the message that football is for all.
Enzo Maresca celebrates at the full-time whistle.
On 10 minutes, Watford's Tom Ince broke away down the right flank, skidding the ball across the goal face, but Mileta Rajović scuffed his chance at an early goal. A quick free-kick allowed Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall – on his 100th appearance for the Club – to charge down on goal for City moments later, although centre-back Wesley Hoedt hurled his body in front of the Academy graduate’s cross. Wout Faes drilled wide as well following an encouraging spell of Foxes possession on the edge of Watford’s box. Porteous then nodded Ken Sema’s corner over as the two teams exchanged early half-chances.
Imrân Louza curled over a free-kick from 20 yards out, awarded after Hamza Choudhury’s late challenge on Ince. Valérien Ismaël’s visitors headed into this visit to the East Midlands on the back of a six-game unbeaten run and were proving worthy opponents for the league leaders. Leicester, who had lost twice in a row before the international break, were nevertheless determined to get on a winning track. Dewsbury-Hall’s long-ranger gave Bachmann work to do, although the Austrian was able to make a strong stop. Just before the half-hour, Dewsbury-Hall’s low, driven free-kick was arrowed awry.
Only a last-ditch swing of the boot from Jamal Lewis stopped both Kelechi Iheanacho and Stephy Mavididi from applying the finish to a well weaved Leicester breakaway. Kasey McAteer also miscued a half-volley wide of the near post, before sending another high over the crossbar. His third chance in quick succession was by the far most cutting. Dewsbury-Hall’s looped cross was perfect and McAteer rose above Lewis to head it towards the net, prompting an admirable low stop from Bachmann. A murmur of surprise then greeted Faes’ surge forward, propelled further towards goal by a neat one-two. Before long, the Belgian found himself in the box, but Lewis did just enough to prevent what would have been a startling opening goal on Filbert Way. City had picked the pace up before the break, but couldn’t plot a way through.
The Blue Army welcomes the Foxes onto the pitch ahead of kick-off.
Straight from the off, the ball flashed across Watford’s goal and came to Mavididi. The winger, though, didn’t apply enough power to his shot, saved with relative comfort. Mavididi was at the heart of the next opening, possibly the best of the game up until that point. Ricardo Pereira, the home side’s captain for the day, slipped the ball through to Iheanacho, who then diverted it towards the back post. Mavididi, however, wasn’t able to pick out the bottom corner and instead watched the ball trickle wide. The introductions of Abdul Fatawu and Vardy, replacing McAteer and Iheanacho, provided fresh attacking options for Maresca’s men for the final half an hour or so. It would prove to be a crucial intervention from the Manager.
Fatawu was lively on the right, winning a corner almost immediately. Another quickly-taken free-kick – this time with Ndidi the architect – freed Fatawu in the box. His cross found Vardy’s feet too, but the No.9 couldn’t keep it down and it flew over into the Kop. Bachmann’s post was rattling on 70 minutes. Ricardo did especially well to dispossess Giorgi Chakvetadze and get City moving, chipping to ball into Dewsbury-Hall. The former Luton Town loanee spun on the spot and cannoned the ball onto the near post. Jannik Vestergaard’s header then looped over the Watford ‘keeper and into the roof of the net. It was becoming hard to fathom how Leicester weren’t in front, particularly when Vardy side-footed Mavididi’s cross over the top from around five yards out. They were knocking at the door and finally Leicester booted it down with 14 minutes to play.
Dewsbury-Hall’s free-kick was sent towards goal by Vestergaard’s head. Bachmann made an impressive stop to deny the Danish centre-back, but just when they needed him, Leicester’s third all-time top goalscorer sprung into action, spotting the loose ball and prodding it into the bottom corner from close range. The celebrations were an outpouring of relief as much as joy, with Vardy racing over to the Blue Army to toast his sixth goal of the season.
Jamie Vardy turns to the Foxes faithful to celebrate his second goal of the afternoon.
Cesare Casadei, another substitute, later knocked it wide from range. Mavididi’s hit was also saved well at his near post by Bachmann. Casadei then headed straight at the goalkeeper. Although Leicester were pushing for another, Watford gathered some attacking steam of their own. Ryan Andrews’ powerful cross-turned-shot needed to be stopped by Mads Hermansen. Faes had to bravely get in the way of Matheus Martins’ effort just inside the area as well. The points hung in the balance just before the 90th minute, mind you, when Porteous broke into a pocket of space in the 18-yard box. Thankfully for the home fans among the 31,577 crowd, the former Hibernian man sent it straight at Hermansen.
There was drama to come in added time. Bachmann, already booked, hauled Vardy to the ground in the box, with the former Fleetwood Town man just about to pull the trigger.. That was enough to warrant the Watford captain's dismissal and Ismaël's men had used all their subs. Porteous took his team-mate's goalkeeper shirt and lined up for Vardy's spot-kick. Naturally, the 36-year-old smashed it past him and it was 2-0. The Foxes were deserved winners, battling to victory through adversity.
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