City’s Euro push back on the rails

Brighton & Hove Albion 0 Leicester City 2, Amex Stadium, 31st March 2018

Report by Colin Murrant

Whenever I visit Brighton for the football it is usually by train and, being of a certain age, this brings back memories of The Who and the 5:15. It is probably fitting therefore that it was at Brighton that City got their second away win a row and got their Europa League push firmly back on the rails in this hard-fought encounter.

The Amex Stadium is situated some 5 miles outside of Brighton and is 15 minutes by car (with little chance to park), a 90-minute walk or, more sensibly, a 10-minute journey by train. The match ticket includes free rail passage from Brighton to Falmer, 3 stops along the line and with direct access to the stadium. There was plenty of Leicester supporters in evidence in the City Centre before the match, many making a week-end of it but; although the sun made the occasional breakthrough, the weather was largely gloomy which was in contrast to the general optimism about the result.

City kicked off defending the South Stand where the faithful were situated. The first half was a mainly dour affair with only one shot on target. What it was most noted for was a booking for Ndidi for a foul on Kayal, this was to prove costly. Morgan had also been cautioned early on. It was about this time that City fans had stared to get irritated by the refereeing, although both City bookings were probably deserved, equally poor challenges by the home team were going unpunished, notably Bong from behind on Mahrez: Mahrez over milked the sympathy, lying prone for some time, and thus earned the wrath of the locals who booed him every time he was on the ball from thereon.

I have seen some difficult centre forwards in my time and Murray fits this bill; he was constantly pushing, nudging, taking the occasional dive and, being clever with it, getting away with virtually every infringement. He seems to get his push in early as soon as the ball is played, this unbalances the defender and gives Murray a distinct advantage: having said that, I quite enjoyed watching him, proper ‘old school’. What he didn’t do well though is finish. The best chance of the first half fell to him following a through ball from Gross, beating the offside trap, he was quickly closed down by Schmeichel, but should have scored as he sent his shot well wide of the target from 12 yards.

In fact, the only effort on target in the half came from a free kick for Leicester after Mahrez was fouled for the umpteenth time. He made a short pass to Albrighton who centred for Iborra to head goal-wards but the ball was easily caught by Ryan in the Brighton goal.

The second half started with a great Albrighton ball from deep and wide into the penalty area, Vardy in a tussle with Duffy won the ball and was lining a shot up when the whistle went for an inexplicable alleged foul by Vardy.

Play was still fairly even with little being created by either team and, after 55 minutes, Puel decided to take off the ineffective Okasaki and bring on the more positive attack minded Diabate. Now many are still on the fence with our Claude but this was most definitely one of his better days, it was his substitutes (no further ‘The Who’ connection intended) who turned the game for City as also later on Gray for Albrighton was to be decisive as City picked up their attacking intent.

There was then a series of bookings as Chilwell, Simpson and Maguire were booked in a five-minute period, Kayal of Brighton was also booked and you sensed a red card would happen. Maguire was fouled himself but the referee ignored his pleas and the ball ran to Gross who, from 25 yards out, hit a good shot that Schmeichel pushed behind although the save was more spectacular than difficult to make as the ball was not heading for the top corner.

It was Brighton on the offensive now and March went on a mazy run in the box before passing to Izquierdo who was tackled by Ndidi and Maguire simultaneously, he dived more than fell and the penalty was given. Murray stepped up and rather casually hit the ball to Kasper’s left. The keeper guessed correctly and pushed the ball away out of danger; the ball was at a good height to save but full praise to the city keeper who now has saved as many Premier League penalties as Peter his father.

This seemed to spark city and Bong was finally booked for another tackle on Mahrez that was probably deserving of a red itself and most definitely should have been his second red of the afternoon. Another foul on Mahrez by Kahal and he too escaped a second yellow. This time Mahrez took the free kick and it was headed on in the penalty are by Maguire, possession was won back by City and the ball was worked between Gray, Diabate and Maguire again before Chilwell centred for Iborra to score his third headed goal for City. What a gem this man in both boxes with his heading ability and his height in midfield.

Then followed the most controversial moment of the match as Ndidi was deemed to have fouled Duffy whose overreaction was bordering on farcical. The distraught Ndidi took some time to leave the pitch although there was no confrontation with the referee, he just fell to the ground in disbelief. It was not obvious at the time as the incident was at the far end of the pitch, but TV pictures confirmed it was a clean interception, it should have been play on and no more. The decision confirmed the inadequacies of Kavanagh individually as a referee and underlines why England cannot manage one single referee in 80 nominated for the World Cup finals. Fuchs came on for Mahrez and Chilwell moved to left side of midfield as Puel tried to secure the win.

Brighton were now desperate and had to attack more themselves, a corner from the left nearly gave them the equaliser as Schmeichel came and missed the cross and Bong failed to connect at the empty far post. 5 minutes of added on time were given and at the death City secured victory as two of the substitutes combined to set up the goal that confirmed the three points. Iborra won the ball in City’s half, fed Diabate who in turn fed the ball to Gray. Diabate ran into an off-side position in the penalty area which momentarily delayed Gray, as play progressed he beat his man and crossed to the far post where Vardy tapped in to give City the victory they just about deserved.

So, City with two back to back away wins where they have had 56% and 53% possession respectively are on the move gain and that possible seventh place and Europa League is in our hands given we play Burnley in two weeks’ time. Puel’s transformation of the City side into a team that likes possession is moving forward. The summer transfers will be one I look forward to as he has the opportunity to bring in a few of his own signings. I love the prospect of Ndidi, Silva and Iborra in the centre of the park together. But there is plenty of work to do this season and Silva’s time will probably now come against Newcastle and Burnley with Ndidi serving his two-match ban.

Now, while there is lots to like about the Brighton experience, queuing for that train back to Brighton is not one of them. So, with the bar kept open after the match, and food reduced to half price, a large contingent of City fans took the opportunity to refresh themselves, talk about the match, watch the highlights on the screen and finally contemplate continuing their short-break or, in my case, the 3-hour journey home. Amazing how good the journey home is after a win, even if it was the 7.15; and I wasn’t ‘out of my brain’.

Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan, Schelotto, Duffy, Dunk, Bong, Locadia, Kayal, Propper, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Bruno, Goldson, Suttner, Hemed, Baldock, March.

City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Albrighton, Ndidi, Iborra, Mahrez, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs: Jakupovic, Dragovic, Fuchs, Silva, Gray, Diabate, Iheanacho

Referee: Kavanagh                         Attendance 30,269

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