2016 Premier League champions Leicester City provided the latest challenge to a Town side which emerged a little chastened from their clash with West Ham having failed to match David Wagner’s high standards though, on reflection, the performance perhaps didn’t merit as much vitriol as it received.
Of the 3 changes made for the visit of the Foxes, Depoitre’s debut was enforced by the injury to Mounié while Van La Parra’s relegation to the bench was tactical, allowing Sabiri to take his bow in the 10 role and Ince move out to the left.
In the least surprising change, Billing made way for the more industrious and powerful Williams to add greater urgency against a side noted for their tenacity.
The debuts ranged from very good to excellent. Sabiri has great potential – while not everything he tried came to full fruition, he looks elegant, quick and skilful and looks very capable of filling the hole left by Palmer’s hopefully short term injury.
Depoitre bullied Leicester’s central defenders from the off, particularly Harry Maguire, scored an excellent goal and bustled around like a latter day Kindon before fading a little towards the end.
The laurels, however, belonged to Williams. Covering huge acreage, his tackling and aerial challenges contributed significantly to subduing the visitors’ obvious threats while, on the ball, his carrying in to opposition territory was often incisive and allowed the excellent Mooy more freedom to dictate play.
Town started brightly and a good move, instigated by Depoitre’s tenacity just inside Leicester’s half ended with the Belgian heading in to Schmeichel’s hands.
In the face of Town’s energy, Leicester struggled to make an impact on the game for long periods though the home side had to be ever wary of Mahrez’s sublime artistry (once he looks interested) and Iheanacho’s awareness of space.
In and amongst Town’s domination of an exciting and breathless first half, Vardy’s only contribution of note was an attempted lob late on which went wide while a free kick from a dangerous position following a Schindler transgression was wasted by Mahrez.
For the majority of the half, Leicester had to defend with increasing desperation though Town couldn’t find another attempt on target after Depoitre’s early header despite some eye catching build up play orchestrated by Mooy, who was everywhere around the pitch.
Yet again, the atmosphere was superb. For all the chagrin about clappers, all four sides of the stadium join in the beat of enthusiasm and add hugely to the enjoyment of the spectacle. The visitors were clappered to their 2016 triumph, and will probably empathise with Town’s initiative.
Town had rediscovered their pressing mojo and lesser sides than Leicester – and there will be quite a few – will buckle under the intensity the Terriers can create. More and better chances need to be fashioned when on top, which was also the case against Southampton, but if there were legitimate concerns that the usual qualities of Wagner’s sides were largely missing on Monday, the first half swiftly dispelled them.
The second half was less frantic though no less enthralling. Leicester kicked off but were soon pressed out of possession with the ball reaching Sabidi, who hooked the ball forwards towards Depoitre. It wasn’t his most subtle intervention during the game but proved his most effective as the Belgian let the ball run down the side of him, shrugged off the attentions of Maguire and swept an excellent finish past Schmeichel’s despairing dive.
After all the huffing and puffing of the first half, compelling as it was, the direct route unlocked the visitors’ defence with some ease and Depoitre’s run and finish were executed with precision and strength.
The relief at the goal turned to despair minutes later, however. Imbibed by a new sense of urgency, Leicester responded straight from the restart and Town’s focus seemed momentarily lost. A ball reached Andy King who pushed it past a slightly mistimed Löwe tackle which he willingly fell over, just inside the box. It was a massive shame for the much improved German who had put the tribulations of the Olympic stadium behind him, but there was no argument about the decision.
Vardy, who had been well shackled by the ever excellent Schindler and Zanka, blasted the penalty past Lössl for an ill deserved equaliser. Rather oddly, and in the place of celebration, the England centre forward got hold of the ball and smacked it skyward, earning some boos from an unimpressed home support.
To their credit, Town quickly regained composure. A good run by the much improved Kachunga, another under performer against the Hammers, lead to a snap shot from Zanka which Schmeichel turned over the bar, before the provider was denied a goal by a desperately marginal decision by the linesman.
It was Zanka again who had shot goal ward following a weaving run in the box by Ince which Kachunga nudged in from close range. Video evidence suggested that Kachunga was level and should have been given the striker’s benefit of the doubt, but in real time and with the naked eye, the linesman’s spontaneous reaction was wholly understandable, if hugely disappointing.
Leicester got back in to the game after their close call and Vardy was guilty of a shocking miss when in front of goal, alone but unable to connect with a low cross from the increasingly influential Mahrez.
The Algerian is a joy to watch when he decides to play. A magician with the ball at his feet, he regularly eluded Town challenges with feints and movement that are mesmerising.
His growing presence may have influenced Wagner’s substitutions with Quaner replacing Kachunga and the welcome sight of a Hogg return to replace the highly promising Sabiri adding some steel.
Despite a more conservative line up – Mooy was pushed further forward – Town had two further chances to take all 3 points. A great cross by the Australian maestro found the space between defenders and goalkeeper only for Quaner to contrive not to connect by trying to let it run on to his right foot rather than strike with his left.
A curling Ince effort had his childhood friend in the Leicester goal scrambling, but a winner was not to be.
Leicester, whose performance was largely lacklustre in the face of Town’s persistent pressing, were much improved after the break but will feel that the point they took back down the M1 is a good one. A late penalty appeal when Gray fell over when nudged by Zanka caused some momentary consternation, but Jon Moss waived it away.
Mooy and Mahrez apart, the contest lacked genuinely high quality but engrossed to the end as Town, once again, showed that they can compete against established Premier League sides – entertaining as it was, the day was also tinged with a little regret that the home side didn’t get the 3 points they probably deserved.
However, there were big positives to be taken. The team had bounced back from their London travails, the debutants were all effective performers who can be fully trusted to play their part during the season and a capacity crowd left happy with the endeavour, entertainment and energy of their team.
A bruising, tough and important Turf Moor date is on the horizon; a game which presents an entirely different set of challenges to work upon but Town can go in to the game with confidence (as Burnley will after their excellent Anfield point).