Legia Warsaw 1 City 0
Report by Colin Hall
Leicester City’s first competitive outing on Polish soil resulted in a disappointing defeat, as hosts Legia Warsaw claimed a 1-0 victory to take command of Europa League Group C.
Although the side fielded by Brendan Rodgers was well below full strength, the players on display had more than enough experience and capability to secure a crucial victory.
But, not for the first time in this campaign, too many players fell considerably short of expectations, and a spirited home side were able to see off a late fightback to clinch their second win in what is already proving a more competitive group than City experienced in this competition last season.
In front of a raucous home crowd – far noisier than any witnessed at an English club ground for a very long time – Legia started strongly, with Martins forcing Kasper Schmeichel into an early save.
Despite conceding possession far too frequently, the visitors managed to play themselves into the game, and even managed to create a number of clear chances, though neither Patson Daka or Ayoze Pérez were able to take them.
However, on the half-hour, City fell to another of the defensive blunders that have too often blighted their season to date.
Daniel Amartey looked to have broken up a dangerous Legia attack, but dwelt too long on the ball, allowing Emreli to recover and fire home off a post past a stranded Schmeichel to raise the home supporters’ decibel count even further.
In such a frenzied atmosphere, it would have been easy for the visitors to capitulate completely. City, though, refused to do this and indeed, should have levelled before the break, only for Pérez to snatch a shot wide when sent clear by Daka.
The Spaniard was more accurate soon after the resumption, finding the net after a corner by Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, but referee Bebek had already blown for an infringement that was not immediately apparent to the visiting contingent.
Legia spent long spells content to park the bus in defence of their lead, with City struggling to find the creative spark required to unlock the massed home defence.
Yet another chance went begging, though, in the 65th minute when Jannik Vestergaard, who had another uncertain evening at the centre of the City defence, met another corner just four yards out, but directed the ball straight at home keeper Miszta.
Rodgers brought on a succession of England internationals in the closing stages, yet none were able to make the vital breakthrough, although James Maddison, showing a vigour not always apparent in recent appearances, came closest with a scrambled effort cleared off the line by the Legia defence.
At the other end, the home side twice wasted opportunities in the closing scenes to increase their advantage, with sub Kastrati having a shot turned onto a post, and then teeing up Pekhart to blaze over.
The final whistle was greeted with predictable euphoria in the home areas of the Polish Army Stadium, celebrating only Legia’s second-ever victory against English opposition, though news of Napoli’s surprise home defeat against Spartak Moscow slightly reduced the damage to City caused by this result.
Nevertheless, Rodgers has some difficult decisions to make before the forthcoming double-header with Spartak. He may well have to rethink his policy of rotating the squad in order to achieve the results needed to secure progress in the competition.
Meanwhile the Polish police went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the unpleasant scenes that had marred the aftermath of City’s previous tie against Napoli.
The 800 or so members of the Blue Army that had braved the journey to Poland were kept well segregated from home fans throughout the game, denied exit from the stadium for over an hour afterwards, and then penned in a cordon on a street outside pending the arrival of taxis to collect them. As a result this writer, whose journey from hotel to ground took just a 15-minute walk, was delayed for nearly two hours in making the return trip.
But while the general mood among travelling fans was subdued, it was far from despondent. The damage caused during the first two games is far from irretrievable, though a significant improvement in individual and collective form will be needed to repair it.
Legia Warsaw (3-5-1-1): Miszta; Jedrzejczyk, Wieteska, Nawrocki; Johansson (Abu Hanna 78), Slisz, Kharatin, Martins (Kastrati 70) Mladenovic; Pesqueira (Guimarães Lopes 83); Emreli (Pekhart 84).
Substitutes not used: Holownia, Ribeiro, Celhaka, Muci, Skibicki, Rose, Kostorz, Tobiasz.
Goal: Emreli 31
Booked: Mladenovic, Pesqueira, Emreli, Pekhart.
Leicester (3-1-4-2): Schmeichel; Amartey (Lookman 78), Vestergaard, Söyüncü; Tielemans; Castagne, Soumaré, Dewsbury-Hall (Maddison 67), Thomas; Pérez (Barnes 67), Daka (Vardy 82).
Substitutes not used: Bertrand, Albrighton, Ward, Choudhury, Ricardo, Benkovic, Jakupovic.
Booked: Thomas, Maddison.
Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia).
Attendance: 27 087
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