Leicester City 3 Fulham 1 – 9 March 2019
Report by Tish Krokosz
A fortnight ago, we were expecting this match to be billed as Claude versus Claudio. In that time, both managers had lost their respective managerial positions and this would be the first viewing of Brendan Rodgers’ side at home. After his experiment of a 3-5-2 formation against Watford, fans were expecting to see a similar set-up against Fulham, a side not renowned for its away record. Instead, the new manager reverted to a back four and one holding midfielder.
After conceding a second corner within four minutes, City fans were understandably becoming twitchy and wondering whether we would (yet again) be letting in an early soft goal. On this occasion – no. The visitors rarely made any impression into the City half for the rest of the first half.
This was due a lot to Ndidi’s impressive tackling, blocking and intercepting. Indeed, after twenty minutes, he stole the ball from Chambers and immediately threaded it through to Vardy, who, using his speed, took it into the penalty area and, seeing Tielemans unmarked, crossed it to him. The Belgian took one touch with his right foot to give him space past the defender and rolled the ball into an empty net.
By this stage, the goal scorer could have had a hat-trick as he had tried two attempts on goal earlier. The build up to the goal was all the more impressive as Vardy was “on” to score his hundredth goal for City, and his unselfish play had given City the lead and a comfortable platform to continue the first half.
It was evident that City had been given instructions to play higher up the pitch as there was back-up to Vardy’s attacking position on many occasions and with more luck or poorer Fulham defending City could have had a bagful of goals by half-time with attempts from Maddison, Vardy, Pereira, Barnes and Evans, who nearly scored with a dramatic diving header at the end of the half.
Defensively, City seemed hungrier for the ball than Fulham and were hunting in packs of two or three to retrieve the ball from Fulham midfielders, thereby stifling any of their attempts to move forward. City fans were happy at half-time but slightly frustrated that the dominance had not made the game safe by that stage. Fulham, meanwhile, looked rudderless and the lack of a permanent manager was noticeable.
However, Scott Parker, temporarily in charge of the Cottagers, decided that this City dominance could not continue and brought on Ayité after the break to replace Sessegnon, who had been unimpressive against Chilwell and had given the latter too much space down the left-hand side to support Barnes’ attacks.
This change brought swift reward for the visitors. After about five minutes of the restart, they booted a high ball out of defence which looked as if it might be going out for a throw-in. Ayité judged the flight of the ball better than Chilwell, who seemed to dither, waiting for a throw-in to be given. Instead, Ayité controlled it perfectly and turned Chilwell easily and darted towards goal with the ball. As he entered the penalty area, his shot on goal was spotted by Schmeichel and he was ready to stop it. Unfortunately, the tame shot hit Maguire and trickled pathetically into the net leaving Schmeichel wrong-footed.
The tame goal that City usually give away in the first ten minutes of the first half came at the beginning of the second half this time. This rejuvenated Fulham who suddenly decided that attacking City was an option after all and for the next twenty minutes they looked the more likely to score. Mitrovic, who generally had a quiet game, could have given them the lead on 67 minutes when a perfect cross from the left found him unmarked between Evans and Maguire. His deft header trickled past the far post with Schmeichel beaten.
Our midfielders did not have the same control shown in the first half. On occasion two blue shirts would go for the same ball, get in each other’s way and Fulham would come away with it. Ndidi certainly did not have the same effect on the game as in the first 45 minutes. Gray was ineffective on the right wing. Tieleman’s passes were not as incisive as they were earlier and City looked tired going forward. Rodgers made a double substitution on 70 minutes bringing on Okazaki and Ghezzal to replace this duo.
Several minutes later, Maddison intercepted a poor clearance from Nordtveit and from the centre circle passed a perfectly weighted ball into space on the right of the penalty area for Vardy to run on to. This time, he took his chance with an immaculate shot into the far corner of the net. This settled the home side and after a further substitution whereby Mendy replaced Maddison to solidify the midfield there was only going to be one winner.
Most of the fans sitting around me have been impressed with Harvey Barnes since his return from West Bromwich Albion. His positive runs towards an opponent’s goal have been exciting and penetrating. He deserves a goal. Earlier in the second half we thought he had one. He received the ball from Chilwell on the left hand corner of the penalty area and curled it wonderfully towards the far post. Unfortunately, Rico was equal to it and dived to his left to palm it away for a corner.
The next best thing to scoring a goal is probably creating one and in the 83rd minute, Barnes controlled the ball well on the touchline and turned for goal. Odoi’s attempt to bring him down was brushed aside and he ran into the penalty area where he saw Vardy loitering with intent. Vardy’s earlier unselfishness was rewarded when Barnes slipped the ball to him and he guided it into the net with his left foot. There was some doubt from Radio Leicester after the match as to whether the first or the second of his goals was the 100th for City – he had made sure one way or another that this milestone was reached.
The end scoreline suggests a comfortable win for City and in many ways it was. Yet the wobble at the beginning of the second half could easily have been punished by a stronger or more determined team. Fulham did not look like a side destined to remain in the top flight beyond the next couple of months.
The home fans had their first taste of what Brendan Rodgers may bring to the club. The first half was extremely promising even though the opposition was very poor. It has been a while since City have scored three goals at home. This was a game where the goal difference could have been improved even more but most fans went home happy.
Leicester: Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, Gray (Okazaki 70), Maddison (Mendy 79), Tielemans (Ghezzal 70), Barnes, Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Iheanacho, Fuchs.
Fulham: Rico, Odoi, Nordtveit, Ream, Bryan, Chambers, McDonald (Vietto 82), Babel (Seri 67), Cairney, Sessegnon (Ayité 46), Mitrovic. Subs not used: Le Marchand, Christie, Zambo Anguissa, Fabri.
Referee: D. Coote Attendance: 32,017
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