Villa 1 Foxes 2
Match Report by Graham Tracey
A dominant first half performance helped us pick up another valuable victory on our travels, and keep any worries that our exertions will catch up with us in the long grass. The second half was harder work that we would have liked, but any other result would have been a travesty on the overall balance of play.
Brendan sprang a surprise in the full back department by playing three – Thomas on the left, with the returning Castagne behind Ricardo on the right. When I saw the line up I assumed this was to double up on Grealish, but then when I looked at the Villa team sheet I was delighted to learn he was ruled out with an injury that they had kept secret. No matter, as our formation worked just fine, with Ricardo seeing plenty of the ball in dangerous positions and forcing a save within the first half minute.
I may as well start this report by saying that Luke Thomas was outstanding – probably his best game yet – both defensively and in feeding Barnes. I think we can have full confidence playing him in JJ’s absence, giving us a great alternative to Albrighton on the right. In fact, other than Justin’s absence (and I can’t remember feeling as upset for an injured player), maybe this is our strongest team (although Fofana wouldn’t weaken it).
We looked to have sowed the game up within 25 minutes, with Villa keeper Martinez probably thinking he could have prevented both goals on another day. We were benefitting from an injury to Villa’s decent right back Cash, and so Barnes deserved his man of the match award from Sky. First, he laid off the ball to Maddison, who guided it into the corner from outside the area via the keepers’ fingers. Minutes later, Vardy’s snap-shot was spilled, and Harvey reacted quickest to fire into the roof of the net.
One punch aside, Kasper had a redundant first half, with Watkins (who would have been an idea signing for us instead of Perez) the only dangerous Villain, and Thomas blocking their only sniff of goal. I like to think that the notebook of the watching Gareth Southgate simply said “pick all fit Leicester players for the Euros who want to go”.
However, in an echo of the Leeds away game in the autumn, we let our opponents back into the game with a goal out of nowhere at the start of the second period. A ball in from the left inexplicably found Traore unmarked in the six yard box, and despite slipping he hooked the ball past Schmeichel, prompting a minor scuffle in lieu of a goal celebration. This did not particularly ramp up the home pressure, and for a time we looked more likely to find the killer third goal. Barnes drew two yellow cards with his running, and a breakaway goal with Vardy looked on the cards.
However, Madders limping off injured changed our gameplan. He forced a flying save from a free kick, but then left the field after treatment for both ankle and hip injuries. Mendy came on and his industrious contribution was much appreciated. However, we then brought on Choudhury and Amartey, as the preservation dial was turned up to the max. This invited Villa to control the ball for the final minutes and put plenty of balls into the box, but Soyuncu in particular was always there to head away, and we held out without any real alarms.
Inevitably, Man City won afterwards, leaving the title itself still feeling 5000-1 away. I genuinely think that if Mahrez could have been brain-washed, Inception-style, to play for us instead of them this season, then then 10 point gap between us could be zero. That’s how good we are. Nevertheless, it was a very satisfying weekend, with top four rivals like Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs losing points. Being over 50, the FA Cup remains my top priority, but feet up now for a few days until European progress hopefully.
FOXES: Schmeichel 6, Castagne 8, Thomas 9, Soyuncu 8, Evans 7, Ndidi 7, Tielemans 8 (Choudhury), Ricardo 7 (Amartey), Barnes 9, Maddison 8 (Mendy), Vardy 7.
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