Monday 18 December 2017

Okazaki's stunning strike puts Leicester five clear

Leicester City 1 Newcastle Utd 0

Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki puts them in front with an overhead kick during their clash against Newcastle. LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/GETTY IMAGES
Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki puts them in front with an overhead kick during their clash against Newcastle. LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/GETTY IMAGES
Newcastle goalkeeper Robert Elliot attempts to claim the ball above Steven Taylor and Leonardo Ulloa. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
A cross from Newcastle winger Andros Townsend is blocked by Christian Fuchs. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Newcastle's Aleksandar Mitrovic squares up to Leicester's Danny Simpson as teammate Wes Morgan intervenes. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leicester City's Leonardo Ulloa is challenged by Moussa Sissoko as he tries to hold up the play. PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Eight to go. Five points clear and just eight monumental matches to go now and the Leicester City Earthquake that has caused such a seismic shift in the Premier League this season rumbles on like a glorious force of nature.

The phenomenal noise at the final whistle, that mix of unbridled joy, relief and pride at this precious victory will have created even more shockwaves for the seismologists at the local university who have taken to measure activity inside the King Power Stadium.

For Rafael Benitez, Newcastle's new manager, this was back down to earth with a bump as he works to avoid relegation. But Newcastle were better, far better and there is hope. Next up is the Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland. Talk about seismic.

Leicester are five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the table as they chase the first league title in the club's history; 11 ahead of Arsenal; 12 of Manchester City. It looks like a wonderful two-horse race for the title bar a Devon Loch collapse. They won here with their only shot on target.


In this most sensational season, "crazy" as Claudio Ranieri called it in his programme notes, how fitting it was that it was an upside-down goal that opened the scoring. Spectacular. It came midway through a first half which Newcastle had started sharply. They had discomfited the home side, already appearing to be benefiting from Benitez's coaching and a new sense of hope.

But they received a major setback after 25 minutes. It came as a Riyad Mahrez free-kick was only cleared across the penalty area to Marc Albrighton, who sent the ball back in. Steven Taylor attempted to intercept but it skimmed up off his head for Jamie Vardy to rise high and head back across the area.

There was Shinji Okazaki to execute the most acrobatic of overhead kicks and the ball took one bounce before skimming into the net with goalkeeper Rob Elliot unsighted.

The stadium erupted and the home fans goaded Benitez with a chant of "You're getting sacked in the morning".

There was nearly a second goal when Albrighton ran on to Vardy's pass, ran at Taylor and curled a shot narrowly wide.

The Foxes' tails were up. The pressure was on Newcastle to push back; their game plan undone by a moment of brilliance. Before the goal they could sit in and try and counter - and had gone close. The decibels climbed, the clackers clacked, and the tension showed.

Leicester had seemed unsure at kick-off. Newcastle tore into them. Three times in the opening minutes they went close. First Kasper Schmeichel had to clear hurriedly as Moussa Sissoko almost hurtled through, then Ayoze Pérez side-footed wastefully wide after a clever throw-in routine and then Aleksandar Mitrovic, recalled by Benítez, had a shot blocked.

"We're all going on a European tour," sang the Leicester fans and surely that now is a given. But will it be in the Champions League as champions? The fans willed their team on but were quiet once more when Sissoko reached Daryl Janmaat's deep cross at full stretch, only to head narrowly past the angle of post and crossbar.

This was taut. Mahrez shot from distance and Taylor headed away before Elliot was forced into a save. From the corner Robert Huth directed his header over.

On the touchline Benítez coached and coached, directing his players, sharply issuing instructions before briefly stepping back to take notes. He was ordering Taylor into position as Mitrovic dragged a shot, which could have turned into a dangerous centre had a Newcastle player gambled, across the Leicester area.

But the goal hurt Newcastle. They appeared increasingly desperate and that showed as Mitrovic effectively tackled his team-mate, Sissoko, as he threatened to break through.

Newcastle's sense that they should not have been behind at half-time would have been fuelled by replays showing that Vardy was offside before he jumped to beat Jack Colback in the air for Okazaki's goal.

Vardy was quickly involved again after the break. He was too sharp for Janmaat, reaching the ball on the area's edge, and was bundled over by the Newcastle defender. It was inches outside but the free-kick was deflected.

By now Newcastle were pushed back, struggling, tired even (maybe those extra sessions from the new manager?) with N'golo Kanté dominating the midfield. Benítez had seen enough and made his first change. On came Andros Townsend with a change of shape to 4-4-2 as Newcastle hunted a way back into the game.

It had an effect. Suddenly it was Leicester who were being pressed back. Sissoko was through but elected to pass when he should have shot and then Pérez shot when he should have passed, with Jack Colback overlapping. His deflected effort struck the side-netting. The home fans sensed the shift and urged a response.

It became increasingly fraught. Leicester were running down the clock but were fortunate when a powerful Sissoko volley cannoned off Wes Morgan while Mitrovic chose to tee up substitute Siem De Jong rather than shoot. The effort was scuffed. Ranieri urged the crowd to make more noise, they responded and Leicester made it. Just. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport