Harvey Barnes seals victory against Leeds to move Leicester off the bottom
Towards the end of a chastening evening Jesse Marsch had to stomach a swell of Leeds United supporters clamouring for Marcelo Bielsa, questioning his substitutions and booing his players’ pale performance as his side extended their winless run to seven matches. At the final whistle Marsch headed straight down the tunnel, much to the ire of those in the away end, and it is fair to say nobody of a Leeds persuasion departed happy. “Everybody’s pissed off,” Marsch said, putting it bluntly. “We’re all feeling like we’re letting ourselves down in little ways and we have to find a solution.”
Finally for Brendan Rodgers, the spotlight is elsewhere. Rodgers has long been preaching that things will click for Leicester and this was one of those nights when everything came together. By the time Jamie Vardy walked out for the start of the second half slurping a can of Red Bull, the damage was already done; an own goal by Robin Koch and a Harvey Barnes strike paving the way towards only a second league victory of the season, one that lifts them off the bottom of the table. Barnes celebrated capping a slick team move by pretending to putt a golf ball into the corner flag but the relief of this victory was more akin to leathering a drive down the middle of the fairway.
The last time Marsch’s side tasted victory Boris Johnson was still in office as prime minister and while Leicester remain ensconced in the relegation zone, on this evidence these are teams heading in different directions. Leeds’s home game against Fulham on Sunday has suddenly taken on extra significance.
“One of things I saw even before I came was the way the board supported Marcelo all the way and I can only say I’ve felt that same support from everyone,” Marsch said. “We are together, we are unified, from a board perspective and a players’ perspective.”
At times it has felt as though the walls have been closing in on Rodgers, who last weekend was jeered by a section of Leicester supporters calling for his dismissal, but this time it was Marsch’s turn to feel the heat. Marsch made four changes after the narrow defeat by Arsenal but Liam Cooper and Rodrigo, both of whom were dropped, were introduced at half-time. Patrick Bamford returned to the starting lineup but struggled to make his presence felt.
Leicester could relax after taking the lead on 16 minutes. Dennis Praet, who replaced the suspended James Maddison on the right side of midfield, preyed on Koch’s clunky touch in defence and pickpocketed the ball. Vardy was then fouled by Marc Roca but the referee, Peter Bankes, allowed play to run and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall freed Praet with a first-time pass. Praet played a wonderful teasing ball into the six-yard box, in between Illan Meslier and Koch, and with Barnes lurking behind him Koch slid in to intervene, only to inadvertently put the ball past his own goalkeeper.
It was a night built on fine margins. Youri Tielemans’ shot being blocked on the edge of the box on the half-hour was the trigger for Leeds to counter through Luis Sinisterra. The ball pinballed back where it came from and Sinisterra piled forward before curling a shot on to the crossbar from the edge of the D.
Moments later Sinisterra was allowed to playfully surge upfield before dropping a shot wide. Marsch was kicking his heels on the touchline and Rodgers was left shaking his head at the manner in which Leeds continued to tap into space in front of the Leicester back four.
Five minutes later the Leicester goal music sounded once more. Leicester shifted the ball from right to left and Vardy backheeled it into the path of Dewsbury-Hall. He swept the ball on to Barnes, who sent his shot through the legs of an exposed Meslier. Praet missed a chance to put the game to bed after being slipped in by the substitute Patson Daka, an opportunity that left Marsch cussing on the touchline. The feeling was echoed in the away end, where Leeds supporters vented their anger as Sinisterra was withdrawn.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Marsch said. “Right now in both boxes we’re not helping ourselves and we have to find a way to stop the bleeding.”