It may be a case of projection to suggest that David Wagner didn’t hold out much hope of points for his stretched and fatigued squad against a Leicester team free of their early season trials and performing to a standard more in keeping with their talent.
His rotation was fairly light, however, certainly in comparison to his reaction to playing 2 games in 3 days last year when wholesale changes were made to scrape a win at Wigan, and rather surprisingly did not involve a rest for the over worked Mooy while Hogg sat on the bench.
A deserved start for Joe Lolley was well signalled and a reversion to the traditional, and clean sheet keeping, back four was sensible.
What the manager appears unable to change, and given his remarkable abilities in planning, man management and strategy it is truly baffling, is the propensity of his charges to collapse away from home (and sometimes at home) once the opposition take the lead. This has been a rare negative feature of Wagner’s otherwise fabulous tenure.
When Mahrez’s wonderful strike flew past the blameless Lössl, there were 37 minutes, at least, left to play in a game where Town had largely subdued the home side and, if anything, they had looked the better side in an encouraging first half.
Rather than accept a brilliantly taken conceded goal – all be it aided by a weak clearance following a corner – a sense of panic and doubt swept over the visitors which destroyed their shape, saw them commit too far forward and disintegrate as a competitive force.
A calmer response would have been to play as they had been doing in the first half, wait patiently for opportunities and ensure that the boost given to the Foxes was fleeting not fatal.
As it was, Town were easy game for the home side who simply had to wait for the spaces to open up and, if they have any regrets, it will be that they were unable to punish their quarry even more convincingly.
The disintegration of passing, movement and shape was in stark contrast to a creditable first half performance which, while not rich in goal scoring opportunities, established a control over the game for prolonged periods.
Leicester’s flair players were largely contained – and it was a pre match boost to learn that Vardy’s pace behind would be absent – and the home side were made to look rather pedestrian by an energetic Town performance.
A first minute effort by Löwe, straight at Schmeicel, augured well (but proved to be pretty much the extent of the Dane’s afternoon exertions) and the visitors were noticeably brighter in possession than their hosts, particularly down the right where Van La Parra and Smith were combining well without creating much in the way of threat.
By far the best chance of the half fell to Williams. Put through by Mounié, the German American seemingly slowed down as he reached the area in an attempt to draw a foul rather than carry on or shoot. His indecision earned neither a free kick nor any sympathy from his manager post match.
Town’s pressing and teamwork ensured that Leicester’s shining lights flickered only intermittently and to little effect, and genuine entertainment was at a premium. It should have provided a solid base for the second half, particularly as a hushed home support seemed to be waiting for something to become enthused about.
Industrious team play with a solid shape, decent movement and togetherness equalised a contest against a team with better individual talent and quality – only Lolley looked somewhat out of his depth but contributed defensively – and after 45 minutes, a valuable stalemate looked more than possible.
The shambles of a second half where those principles seemed to be abandoned with recklessness is difficult to explain or fathom.
As the team ethos broke down, individual performance levels plummeted. Mounié suffered the most of the visiting support’s ire and while some of it was deserved, particularly his commitment to pressurising Leicester’s central defenders, he is a player who will only thrive if the component parts around him are functioning well. He contributed fairly well to the first half effort, including creating Town’s best chance, but faded badly as the tide turned against Town.
Ideally, Mounié should have given way to Depoitre on the hour to give the Belgian chance to disrupt Maguire’s increasingly serene afternoon as he had done in the home encounter. This would have given Town a little more hope of recovery while saving the young Frenchman from over the top abuse in the aftermath. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it did seem a fairly obvious substitution at the time.
Once the ridiculously talented Mahrez produced the first piece of genuine quality to give the home side the lead, the belief of his team mates grew quickly and, sadly, devastatingly.
Town’s reaction to going behind, unlike their calmer response at St Mary’s against an admittedly inferior opposition, proved suicidal.
Pushing forward, a laborious attack ended when an attempted through ball by Mooy was blocked. Within half a minute, Leicester grabbed their second as Mahrez put a perfect through ball in to the wide open space created by Town’s over eagerness to Slimani and the game was over.
Dispirited even further, Town’s passing faltered, forward momentum was stilted and unthreatening and the defence looked increasingly vulnerable to be picked apart. Leicester should have capitalised more comprehensively than they eventually did, mainly because Schindler remained resilient and aware.
The descent from the thoroughly professional, though rarely thrilling, competence in the first half to the disarray of the final half hour was spectacularly depressing.
A third finally arrived at the death – Albrighton all alone to beat Lössl – but the only surprise was how long it had taken.
A heat of the moment error – Mounié clearing with his head rather than leaving things to the better positioned Mooy – had led to the opening goal, however superbly taken, but the scale of the subsequent collapse was all too familiar. This mindset has to change if Town are to collect the points on the road they will need to supplement their decent home tally.
Losing away to Leicester is hardly the end of the world, and most expected it following a reasonably productive festive effort. The FA cup break – what a depressing admission – has come at a good time for the squad to recover from a brutal December schedule in time for the West Ham game which is more important in the scheme of things, but a return to the old away game habits was unwelcome to say the least.