Leicester edge out Rafael Benitez's Newcastle to stay on course for title
Published 14/03/2016 | 22:01
Shinji Okazaki's stunning goal restored Leicester's five-point lead in the title race as Rafael Benitez's Newcastle bow ended in defeat.
Striker Okazaki won a forgettable game with an unforgettable first-half overhead kick as the Foxes maintained their grip on the Barclays Premier League with a 1-0 victory.
Tottenham's 2-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday had put Claudio Ranieri's men under pressure but they won with minimum fuss, despite not being at their best at the King Power Stadium.
They go to Crystal Palace on Saturday at the end of the five-game run which Ranieri had labelled as key to their chances, having won 10 points from 12.
Defeat left Benitez knowing exactly what he needs to do to keep Newcastle up, with the Magpies a point below the safety line.
There was plenty of effort but the visitors were powderpuff when it mattered as their confidence waned as the game wore on.
They host drop rivals Sunderland on Sunday, in a crucial survival derby, and Benitez must demand more grit from his side.
He made two changes, with Aleksandar Mitrovic replacing Emmanuel Riviere while Vurnon Anita came in for the injured Paul Dummett.
The lack of options would have been alarming to the former Liverpool boss, with minimal switches from the abject 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth which cost Steve McClaren his job.
But there was plenty of fight from the Magpies in the opening exchanges as Ayoze Perez, Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko went close in the first 15 minutes.
There was enough to give Benitez heart but Leicester's sluggish start was smashed in stunning fashion after 25 minutes.
Newcastle failed to clear Riyad Mahrez's free-kick and when Marc Albrighton sent the ball back in, Jamie Vardy headed across for Okazaki to execute the perfect overhead kick from six yards.
It was only the striker's fifth league goal of the season but crucially settled an unremarkable game which could prove so key to both sides' seasons.
Benitez retreated to the dugout and Albrighton nearly made it 2-0 two minutes later after a deep run ended with him curling inches wide.
Newcastle did not look like a team without confidence as they tried to probe the Foxes but found little joy from Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
A lack of creativity let the Magpies down, with Leicester not needed to be at their thrilling best to keep them at bay.
Perez shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel just before the break and Mitrovic struggled to justify Benitez's faith when his 55th-minute header failed to trouble the keeper.
The Magpies were still content to keep possession, with Leicester happy to let them, as the visitors turned to Andros Townsend in place of Anita.
Perez's deflected drive whistled wide after 62 minutes but t here was surprisingly little urgency from the Magpies as time ticked away and, with the hosts struggling to create themselves, the visitors never took advantage.
That will be a concern for Benitez and he was left frustrated when Mitrovic opted to pass to Siem De Jong rather than shoot with just six minutes left as Newcastle slipped to defeat.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Leicester get the job done. Signs of improvement for Newcastle. Biggest Tyne Wear Derby in a long time next weekend. Must win."
Joey Barton @Joey7Barton
Kasper Schmeichel: 6 (out of 10)
Danny Simpson: 5
Wes Morgan: 7
Robert Huth: 7
Christian Fuchs: 6
Riyad Mahrez: 7.
Ngolo Kante: 8
Danny Drinkwater: 8
Marc Albrighton: 6
Shinji Okazaki: 7
Jamie Vardy: 5
Jeff Schlupp: (on for Okazaki, 65): 6
Leonardo Ulloa (on for Albrighton, 76): 5
Rob Elliot: 6
Daryl Janmaat: 6
Steven Taylor: 6
Jamaal Lascelles: 6
Jack Colback: 5
Vurnon Anita: 5
Jonjo Shelvey: 6
Moussa Sissoko: 4
Ayoze Perez: 6
Georginio Wijnaldum: 5
Aleksandar Mitrovic: 5
Andros Townsend (on for Anita, 56): 6
Siem de Jong (on for Perez, 71): 5
Seydou Doumbia (on for Shelvey, 87): 5.
Ngolo Kante. Proved once again why he is one of the signings of the season with a fantastic display in the heart of Leicester's midfield, breaking up several Newcastle attacks and protecting the back four with aplomb. His central midfield partner Danny Drinkwater also deserves a mention for another energetic display.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH:
Shinji Okazaki lit up an average game with his stunning winner - although Newcastle's defending left a lot to be desired. The striker got on the end of Jamie Vardy's cushioned header to send a six-yard overhead kick past Rob Elliot, with the Newcastle defenders slow to react. It was just the striker's fifth league goal of the season but put them on course for another win and to regain their five-point lead.
MOAN OF THE MATCH:
Aleksandar Mitrovic was given a start by Rafael Benitez but never repaid the new manager's faith in him. The striker rarely looked like scoring and his own lack of confidence showed late on when he decided to pass to Siem de Jong instead of shooting himself. Newcastle need a hero, an all action striker, and they cannot rely on Mitrovic to keep them up this season.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT:
Benitez will have seen enough to be encouraged and deflated in equal measure from his Newcastle side. Claudio Ranieri rallied the home crowd late on as he showed exactly what the victory meant to him and his side. Leicester were never truly tested by the Magpies as they, again, opened up a five-point gap at the top.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Crystal Palace v Leicester (Premier League, Saturday 19 March)
Newcastle v Sunderland (Premier League, Sunday 20 March)
Benitez rued missed opportunities but told Sky Sports 1: "The team spirit was there, the commitment and the passion, now we have to correct little things."
He called for the club's fans to inspire them on derby day but said: "Every game will be important.
"We know it is a derby, we know how important it is for everyone but I have the feeling the fans know they are the number 12 and we need them for the next game."
Ranieri said of facing Benitez and his new charges: "When you change the manager, the players want to show their attitude - plus, Newcastle's players are very, very good. I am sure by the end Newcastle will be safe."
He was less willing to make predictions regarding his own team's prospects, though.
"Our concentration is important, we think only of one match," he said. "Step by step, that is our philosophy."
It was left to midfielder Drinkwater to praise the game's stand-out moment, Okazaki's wonderful finish.
"Shinji works his socks off week in and week out so he deserves something like that," he said. "It's a special goal."