Newcastle 2 City 3
Report by Colin Hall
An 86th minute own goal by Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez gave Leicester City a 3-2 victory in an enthralling Premier League encounter at a freezing St James’ Park.
Despite securing victory in such fortuitous fashion, Claude Puel’s side deserved due reward for the enterprise and endeavour displayed during this performance - qualities that haven’t always been in evidence on City’s travels during 2017.
The hosts began the evening with an impressive display of flags, banners and tifos to mark the 125th anniversary of the club’s foundation. Suitably inspired by the occasion, their players began the game in a buoyant mood, and when Gayle outpaced a dozing visiting defence in the 4th minute to tee up Joselu for the opening goal, the party looked set to continue.
However, after Gayle had squandered an opportunity to extend the home lead by firing wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s far post, the visitors gradually began to find some rhythm.
Demarai Gray, match winner from the previous week, twice came close to finding an equaliser, forcing home keeper Darlow to turn behind a near-post effort, and then seeing a long-range shot fly narrowly over.
But it was a more regular source of goals who provided the equaliser after 20 minutes, when Wilfired Ndidi, impressive throughout the game, intercepted a stray home pass to set up Riyad Mahrez for a mazy run capped by a 25-yard drive which evaded Darlow’s clutches to find the corner of the Newcastle net.
City continued to press, and had strong penalty claims turned down when Yedlin upended Jamie Vardy as the striker bore down on goal, only for referee Swarbrick to rule that the home defender’s first touch had been on the ball.
The pattern of play continued after the interval, with the Foxes enjoying notably more possession than in recent games. They made extra quality tell on the hour, with fine work by Mahrez and Marc Albrighton allowing Gray to find the net for the second time in successive weeks, albeit this time with a heavy deflection via Lejeune.
Once again, though, City’s insecurities when defending a lead away from home were to become apparent. After failing to clear a corner, the defence allowed Gayle to size up and fire home from 15 yards. This time Schmeichel was the keeper wrong footed by a heavy deflection, which was provided in this instance by Harry Maguire.
The home crowd, previously dormant for long spells, recovered their voice in the hope of inspiring a late winner. And indeed, it duly came - but not in their favour.
With four minutes remaining, Vardy chased down a long ball and drew both home central defenders. He centred in the direction of sub Shinji Okazaki, but home sub Perez reached the ball first, only to send the ball flying past Darlow into his own net - much to the delight of the 3000 or so travelling Foxes perched “in the gods” at the opposite end of the stadium.
Puel’s shrewd use of subs Leo Ulloa and Christian Fuchs helped City to see out the closing minutes safely and ensure a third straight league victory.
While the City manager has provided some sorely-needed stability and expertise during his opening weeks in charge, there are still some challenges he will need to address during the weeks ahead, such as whether the current 4-2-3-1 formation is the most suitable for his squad, and how to find a role for Adrien Silva when he becomes eligible for selection in the new year.
Perhaps his biggest challenge of all will be in replacing elements of the team who have given supreme service to the club in their time, but are showing signs of succumbing to the ravages of time.
In the short-term, though, Puel is making City a team to be feared again - a development that can only be welcomed by all within the Foxes’ fan base.
Newcastle (4-4-2): Darlow: Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo; Ritchie (Atsu 64), Hayden, Merino, Murphy (Perez 71); Joselu (Mitrovic 88), Gayle. Subs not used: Elliot, Lascelles, Shelvey, Diame.
Scorers: Joselu 4, Gayle 73 Bookings: Lejeune, Hayden.
City (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Iborra, Ndidi; Mahrez (Fuchs 89), Gray (Okazaki 73), Albrighton; Vardy (Ulloa 90). Subs not used: Iheanacho, King, Hamer, Dragovic.
Scorers: Mahrez 20, Gray 60, Perez (og) 86. Booking: Gray.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick. Attendance: 52 117.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation