It was five years ago on Friday night when Leicester lifted the Premier League trophy, with Andrea Bocelli performing on an emotionally charged evening at the King Power Stadium. But after an emphatic defeat by relegation-threatened Newcastle Brendan Rodgers will be hoping this is not Time To Say Goodbye to their Champions League aspirations this season.
This was a nightmarish experience for Leicester, who have now lost as many home games as Championship-bound West Bromwich Albion and produced their worst performance of the season at the worst possible time.
They remain in third place, with destiny in their own hands, but made Newcastle appear like European heavyweights on a chastening evening in front of chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.
Newcastle have all but guaranteed another season at this level after an irresistible display, fully capitalising on the withdrawal of Leicester’s Jonny Evans before kick-off with a foot injury.
When Newcastle play like this, it must make manager Steve Bruce feel like tearing his greying hair out at the inconsistency of his team, who were so tame in their previous game against Arsenal.
Newcastle are now in 13th place, 12 points clear of the bottom three, and Bruce must have known it would be his night when defender Paul Dummett scored his first goal in 132 games, stretching back to January 2016.
There were also fine performances from goalscorers Joe Willock and Callum Wilson, as Leicester were run ragged, with the absence of Evans from the back-three hugely damaging.
Evans hobbled off shortly before kick-off and Leicester never really recovered, with Caglar Soyuncu and Wesley Fofana both struggling without their experienced team-mate alongside them.
Rodgers will require an instant recovery, with Leicester still to play Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in the league this season.
Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester chairman who is based in Thailand, was in attendance for his first game since February 2020 and will have left the stadium in a daze.
At this critical stage of the season, when the stakes are so high, it is all about key moments. In the space of six minutes, Rodgers saw the best and worst of his Leicester team.
It was Kasper Schmeichel who provided a vital contribution for Leicester in the 16th minute, saving brilliantly from Allan Saint-Maximin.
Schmeichel was exposed after Wilson broke clear of the Leicester defence but raced off his line to block Saint-Maximin’s shot from six yards.
Bruce wheeled around in the technical area, hands on his head, but was celebrating six minutes later, however, after a costly mistake from Soyuncu.
The Turkey international was totally unaware of Willock’s proximity as he picked up a loose ball from Dummett, but lost possession and the Newcastle midfielder advanced towards goal to beat Schmeichel.
Willock has now scored in the last four league games, becoming the first Newcastle player to record that achievement since Papiss Cisse in April 2012.
Leicester did respond, and this time it was Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka with the fine reflexes, pushing away a powerful header from Fofana.
Yet Leicester appeared nervy, frequently giving the ball away and struggling to gather a grip on the game with Newcastle growing in confidence.
A second goal seemed inevitable and arrived 11 minutes before half-time, with a strike of brutal simplicity.
Matt Ritchie’s corner eluded the Leicester defence and Dummett climbed above Fofana to power a header into the top corner, despite the best efforts of Schmeichel to keep it out. It was his first goal in over five years and a memorable moment.
Newcastle claimed a third goal in the 64th minute, again as a result of Leicester being in disarray, with Timothy Castagne’s poor backpass allowing Wilson to lure Schmeichel before finding the empty net.
Wilson struck again from close range after his initial shot came back off the post and Leicester were all over the place.
They did produce a late comeback, with Marc Albrighton’s thumping strike and another goal for Kelechi Iheanacho.
“Keep going” implored Schmeichel as Leicester bombarded the Newcastle goal but they have now lost eight games at home.
With a visit to United on Tuesday night, and an FA Cup final next weekend, Rodgers needs to pick up his shell-shocked players quickly.
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