James Justin

Leaders Leicester End 2023 On A High In Cardiff

Leicester City signed off in 2023 with a performance of quality and composure sealing a routine 2-0 victory over Cardiff City in the Welsh capital on Friday evening.

A 20th win in 25 Sky Bet Championship outings leaves the Foxes top of the second-tier standings on 62 points, an astonishing tally which keeps rising. With six wins from seven matches over December, Enzo Maresca's men have navigated a notoriously challenging month with style and substance. Their latest victory was secured by strikes in each half, as Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall's tidy 18th-minute finish was doubled by a sensational hit from James Justin on 55 minutes. This was another vintage away day for over 3,000 City fans too - whose team will start 2024 with a eight-point lead at the summit. Huddersfield Town are next up at King Power Stadium on New Year's Day (3pm GMT kick-off). 

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Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall's first half strike put City on course for three points.

Maresca made just two changes to the XI which was held to a late 1-1 draw at second-placed Ipswich Town on Boxing Day, with Justin and Hamza Choudhury coming back into the line-up. Academy graduate Choudhury was wearing the captain’s armband on the night for City’s first trip to the Welsh capital in five years. Leicester made a probing start, toying with the deep defensive line deployed by Erol Bulut’s home side. It took 13 minutes for them to test Jak Alnwick in the Bluebirds’ net. Abdul Fatawu was typically the creator, with the Ghanaian in such wonderful winter form. His cross from the right channel was looped into the box, where Dewsbury-Hall was waiting eagerly at the far post. The Shepshed-based midfielder got his head onto the ball, nodding it at goal, although Alnwick made a leaping save to parry it away. Any frustration won't have lasted long for Dewsbury-Hall, as he netted the opener just five minutes later. With the help of the energetic Fatawu, City’s No.22 snatched the ball from Joe Ralls high up the pitch, before effortlessly side-stepping a challenge by Dimitrios Goutas just inside the area. With time and space at a premium, with blue shirts closing in, Dewsbury-Hall cooly tucked his finish away into the bottom corner for his eighth goal of an impressive season.

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Jannik Vestergaard

Jannik Vestergaard and his defensive colleagues were on top form.

Although Leicester were largely in control throughout, openings were hard to come by. Stephy Mavididi’s cross bounced up too high for Fatawu in the 36th minute, although the Sporting Lisbon loanee did his best to reach it. Wilfred Ndidi, on the other hand, hurled himself in front of Ralls’ hit inside City’s box – one of few Cardiff opportunities. Kion Etete also smashed a half-volley wide in the last of four added minutes at the end of the first half, too. Maresca’s men needed to turn dominance into something more tangible, a precious second goal. Step forward Justin, the one-time England full-back who every year or two tends to write his name onto the Club's Goal of the Season shortlist. This latest spectacular hit – doubling his side's advantage in the 55th minute – will surely be in the running for the 2023/24 prize. He owes much to Fatawu, who chased down a loose ball before rolling it across the edge of the box. Justin picked it up around 20 yards out, crashing his laces through it, launching it through the air. First it rose, then it dipped, gliding over Alnwick and bursting the net behind him.

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James Justin

James Justin's magnificent strike gave the Foxes some room in the second half.

There was a greater urgency about City’s attacking play after the break. Only a determined intervention from Mark McGuinness halted Ndidi’s strike after more promising wing play from Fatawu. On the other side, Mavididi megged Perry Ng – delighting the away end behind him – before gliding the ball towards Ndidi. Jamilu Collins anticipated the danger, though, and got his head there first. When Cardiff did venture forward, they often found Wout Faes or Jannik Vestergaard blocking all available routes. Choudhury, too, was in no mood to be beaten. Manolis Siopis’ low drive broke through on 64 minutes, but he only had a narrow gap to work with, and his effort was straight at Mads Hermansen. There was nearly another GOTS contender in the 74th minute. Fatawu, so deserving of a goal in south Wales, swung his left boot at the ball, just off centre to the left, 22 yards out. A beautifully curled strike clattered back off the far post and gave Patson Daka little time to readjust his feet. The Zambian couldn't keep his rebounded effort down, but this was the best of Leicester City at times in the second half.

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Harry Winks & Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall

Two City midfield maestros celebrate the win at full-time.

Rubin Colwill, an arrival from the bench for the hosts, nearly halved the arrears just afterwards, spinning on the spot before sending it low towards the bottom corner. Hermansen was ready for it, however. Cardiff's woodwork was rattling again with 11 minutes to play. Dewsbury-Hall released Mavididi on the left flank, with the winger twisting and turning, teasing the defenders. Only a slight deflection diverted his side-footed shot, aimed at the far bottom corner, onto the base of Alnwick's post. Space was opening up at the end, offering both opportunity and danger for the Foxes. McGuinness headed over later on for Bulut's men, while Mavididi flashed another low drive inches wide in the 90th minute too. Now familiar scenes of jubilation greeted the full-time whistle, with Maresca and his table-toppers savouring another memorable night on the road. 

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