Leicester complete courageous King Power comeback to sink Aston Villa
This Midlands match-up certainly lived up to its billing, in a frenetic derby featuring spades of sensational strikes, flying counters and full-blooded challenges, as hosts Leicester City came back from behind to tenaciously triumph 3-2 against Aston Villa.
Industrious striker Shinji Okazaki, returning to the first team fold, set the tone within the first minute as the Japan international beat Scott Sinclair to a ball that looked to have gone out, before being knocked off his feet.
It was all Leicester early on, as Claudio Ranieri’s high-fliers pegged the visiting Villans back into their own half, with a Danny Drinkwater long-distance punt just over the bar.
However, as imposing Wes Morgan narrowly beat lone striker Gabby Agbonlahor to the ball, warning signs were there for the hosts, who were gradually reduced to threatening on the counter while Tim Sherwood’s side grew into the game.
A Robert Huth miss-kick was almost punished with alert Agbonlahor pouncing, though speedy and stretching Sinclair could not quite make solid contact, sending the cross just wide.
Villa defender Joleon Lescott’s debut then threatened to take a disastrous turn, as the Englishman’s poor clearance was latched onto by lurking Jamie Vardy, though Riyad Mahrez uncharacteristically sent his resulting chance straight at Brad Guzan.
Mahrez showed a glimpse of magic just minutes later, however, as he nutmegged Jordan Amavi, but despite right back Ritchie De Laet’s delicious ball across the box, Okazaki’s heavy touch spurned the chance.
Returning winger Jack Grealish did good work down the left and was rewarded with a 23rd minute sight of goal, as impressive Carles Gil drove deep into Leicester’s territory before laying it off for the youngster, though his shot was weak.
The opportunity to make amends arrived soon after, however, as the Foxes’ failure to clear their lines following a set piece scuffle saw the ball fall back to Grealish, and the playmaker scored in some style, curling his strike past un-sighted keeper Kasper Schmeichel.
In response, Mahrez got fans on their feet with some fancy footwork as he turned Villa’s rearguard inside out. The Algeria international dithered too long, but Aston Villa academy product Marc Albrighton picked up the ball, sending a cross in that Okazaki, subbed after the break, inexplicably missed.
Ranieri’s men were reinvigorated after half time, however, as Jeff Schlupp powered down the left flank to supply Vardy, whose instinctive back-heel was just off target.
Mahrez, moved centrally, also became increasingly influential, making Villa’s defence dizzy everytime he danced into their box with the ball.
With the tables well and truly turned it seemed only a matter of time before the Foxes found an equaliser, but Aston Villa handed their hosts a sucker-punch around the 62nd minute mark, as Agbonlahor fed Gil on the break, with the Spaniard dispatching his own stunning effort past Schmeichel.
Leicester finally got a break in the 71st minute, as full back De Laet’s flick on from a corner was adjudged to have just crossed the line to make it 2-1, though Leandro Bacuna was found not guilty of bowling Vardy over in the box as Leicester previously called for a penalty.
The Foxes continued to pour forward, as the clash took on the urgency of a cup tie, with Vardy proving the goal hero as Leicester continued an incredible comeback at the King Power. The determined forward burst into the box to meet Drinkwater’s low cross after smart scheming from Mahrez, with Vardy sliding in to poke the ball past Guzan to equalise emphatically.
Leicester’s dramatic day was not yet over, however, as Mahrez’s lovely lofted ball in the final few minutes of normal time saw brave substitute Nathan Dyer become an instant cult hero, as the winger almost injured himself to reach the ball before Guzan and scrambled the winner.
So, Ranieri’s electric unbeaten run continues, while Villa will leave this Midlands melee scratching their heads as to how they let a two goal lead slip.