City 2 Crystal Palace 1
Report by Coin Hall
A spectacular 80th minute strike from the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho – the Nigerian’s TWELFTH goal in the last nine games – gave Leicester City a 2-1 victory against Crystal Palace and strengthened the Foxes’ grip on a top-three place in the Premier League.
Brendan Rodgers kept faith with the same starting line-up which had seen off West Bromwich with some comfort in the previous fixture, with Luke Thomas continuing at left wing-back and James Maddison given more game time in his recovery from injury.
City started strongly, with Jamie Vardy twice going close in the early stages, as he sought to recover the rhythm that has often deserted him in recent games.
But any thoughts that the visitors would capitulate in the manner they did in the corresponding fixture last season were swiftly dispelled when they took the lead with their first serious attack.
When Youri Tielemans was dispossessed in midfield, Eze pounced to send Zaha through a woefully deficient offside trap and beat Kasper Schmeichel for the winger’s seventh career goal against City. Only Harry Kane among current players has scored more often against us.
Palace seemed content to sit on this lead for the remainder of the half, with a combination of solid defending and robust tackles unsettling and frustrating the Foxes. Not for the first time this season, City failed to make the most of a series of opportunities from set pieces, although Tielemans did force visiting keeper Guaita into a save from a free-kick on the edge of the box.
City were denied a lifeline in first-half stoppage time when Wilfred Ndidi was sent sprawling by an aerial challenge from Ward. However a review by VAR Stuart Attwell – an official not exactly renowned for his pro-Foxes affinities – deemed no foul had been committed.
However, the home side stepped up the tempo significantly after the break and soon reaped due reward. A Tielemans through ball was brilliantly controlled by Iheanacho, who teed up Timothy Castagne to find the net for his first home goal for City. A lengthy VAR review ensued, to check whether a high boot or handball featured in the move, but eventually the ruling came that no infringement occurred, and the goal could stand.
Minutes later came the moment which ultimately defined the match – and perhaps even City’s entire season.
In another Palace break, Zaha sprung the offside trap to put Riedewald clear, but the midfielder looked to pass rather than shoot, thus enabling Jonny Evans to recover and make the most vital of interceptions – later described as “match-saving” in post-match interviews.
Nevertheless, City continued to press the visitors and created clear chances on a regular basis, with Guaita thwarting Maddison and Vardy. At the other end, though, Benteke outjumped Wesley Fofana at a corner, only to send a header straight into Schmeichel’s arms.
Both Maddison and Thomas were replaced midway through the half as City looked for a winner. Neither enjoyed the most comfortable of evenings, and some rotation may be expected in forthcoming games to give others chance to stake a claim for a starting place in the FA Cup Final.
After Vardy and Tielemans had squandered glorious chances in quick succession, the breakthrough finally came.
Iheanacho seized upon a long pass from Evans and turned past two visiting defenders to unleash a thunderbolt which left Guaita transfixed as it struck the back of his net.
The goal was no more than the striker deserved for another outstanding display. It is hard to believe that this is the same Iheanacho whose wretched performance – including a missed penalty – in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park led many in the fanbase to fear for his future at the Foxes.
Benteke headed wide from another set piece as Palace sought to level the game in the closing stages, but City held on to clinch back-to-back home wins for only the second time this season.
With rivals West Ham and Liverpool both dropping points at home in the latest round of fixtures, City now have a real chance of clinching a much-coveted Champions League spot before next month’s double-header with Chelsea in London.
If this side can replicate the reserves of spirit and character that it drew upon during this performance, such a target lies well within its reach.
City (3-5-2): Schmeichel (c); Fofana, Evans, Söyüncü; Castagne, Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison (Pérez 70), Thomas (Albrighton 70); Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs not used: Ward, Ricardo, Amartey, Choudhury, Mendy, Praet, Ünder.
Goals: Castagne (50), Iheanacho (80)
Palace (4-2-3-1): Guaita; Ward, Dann, Kouyate, Van Aanholt; Riedewald (Schlupp 85), Milivojevic (c) (McCarthy 83); Ayew (Townsend 78) Eze, Zaha; Benteke. Subs not used: Butland, Clyne, Kelly, Mitchell, Mateta, Batshuayi.
Goal: Zaha (12) Booked: Riedewald
Referee: Graham Scott VAR: Stuart Attwell
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