Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson’s bold decision to play with three strikers against Manchester United paid off handsomely as the Foxes overturned a two goal deficit to win 5-3 on an extraordinary afternoon at the King Power Stadium.
It was the home side’s biggest win in the top flight since March 2000, when Martin O’Neill’s side defeated Sunderland 5-2 at Filbert Street, while the stunning scoreline also represents the first time United have ever conceded more than four goals to a newly-promoted side in the Premier League era.
While most of the pre-match discussion orbited around the frightening talents at Louis van Gaal’s disposal, Pearson's men completed an unlikely comeback in twenty second half minutes to silence any Old Trafford regulars who may have assumed their troubles had been dispelled.
The United manager, who recalled Barcelona’s collapse during the 4-3 defeat to Valencia in 1998 as the only game like it during his career, appeared stunned post-match. Only then was a van Gaal side dismantled quite so dramtically.
“You never expect that,” he said. “When you are two goals ahead, for the second time, you have to kill the game and kill possession but we could not do that.”
His side took the lead in the 13th minute, despite an adventurous opening ten minutes from the hosts, after Richie De Laet lost Radamel Falcao down the left flank. The Colombian international, a surprise loan signing from Monaco, then magnificently found Robin van Persie at the far post who nodded the ball past Kasper Schmeichel in the Foxes net.
While City’s Danish goalkeeper, who was facing his father's former club, would have been disappointed not to rebuff van Persie’s header, there was nothing he could do about Angel di Maria’s strike just moments later.
Looping the ball over Schmeichel’s head, the most expensive player in British football left the Leicester shot-stopper clutching at thin air as it looped over his grasp and into the net.
Leonardo Ulloa, who is rapidly repaying the £8m outlay spent on him by Pearson this summer, immediately got his side back into the match, however, after tireless work by Jamie Vardy on the byline. It’s hard to believe that, three years ago this weekend, the 27-year-old was sent off for Fleetwood Town in the fifth tier of English football.
Dealing with Marcos Rojo like a seasoned top flight professional, Vardy prevented the ball from going out of play before unleashing a marvelous cross into Ulloa's path.
After the break, which saw a revitalised Leicester emerge from the dressing room, United momentarily resumed their two goal advantage through Ander Herrera’s deft flick on di Maria’s glancing shot across goal.
But it was Vardy who will perhaps make the Monday morning headlines after appearing to knock United right-back Rafael to the floor before hitting the deck himself under a much weaker challenge.
Referee Mark Clattenburg, already under fire for not dismissing De Laet for a shove on di Maria in the first half, pointed to the spot – much to the fury of captain Wayne Rooney.
Questions were asked of Vardy's actions but, interestingly, not by van Gaal himself. Rafael's naivety, charging back into the tussle after picking himself up, would have irked him far more.
David Nugent, who last netted in the Premier League four years ago for Burnley, fired straight down the middle and beyond David de Gea to give his side hope of an unlikely renaissance in fortunes.
After inspiring the Foxes to an impressive 1-0 away win at Stoke City last weekend, Esteban Cambiasso then got in on the act as the King Power Stadium descended into pandemonium.
The 34-year-old has won major honours at Real Madrid and Inter Milan but the joy etched across his face, when he saw his stabbed effort fly past de Gea in the 64th minute, suggests he is hungry to be a success in England too.
With their side now level, the City backroom staff would have been forgiven for slowing things down. Instead, with Pearson looking down from his preferred position in the stands, assistant manager Craig Shakespeare was hurrying matters along; pleading with his troops to press further forward.
Their ambition reaped yet more rewards when De Laet dispossessed Juan Mata in his own half before racing forward and finding Vardy behind enemy lines. With United’s defence imploding around him, the former Halifax Town man then slid the ball past de Gea and gave Leicester the lead for the first time of the afternoon.
‘The pest’, as he affectionately known in this corner of the East Midlands, was then felled by Tyler Blackett in the visiting area and watched on as Clattenburg confounded van Gaal’s misery by dismissing the 20-year-old defender with eight minutes remaining.
With Ulloa closing in fast on Diego Costa’s goal tally (7), the star signing from Brighton then converted the spot-kick in Nugent’s absence, after the former England international had been substituted, and the most remarkable comeback in living memory for many City supporters was complete.
While praise must surely be heaped upon Pearson’s shoulders, for he ambitiously matched United’s diamond formation man-for-man, much of the post-match focus will be on the devastating manner in which United threw away a two-goal advantage.
With a side as top-heavy as van Gaal's being punished so ruthlessly by a newly-promoted club, albeit one showing signs of such promise, those who doubted the Dutchman's transfer policy in the summer will feel vindicated this evening.
Having lost both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the off-season, Red Devils fans were expecting at least one new centre-back to arrive at Old Trafford.
Those are issues which must wait until January but, for Pearson, things continue to get better at the King Power Stadium after his side secured their first back-to-back wins of the campaign and rose to seventh in the Premier League.
“You can’t underplay the significance of the quality that we have in the squad,” he said at full-time.
“In the five games that we’ve played we’ve proved to ourselves as much as anybody else that we have quality to perform at this level. It’s always going to be the challenge whether you can reproduce that week in, week out.
“So far our level of performance has been pretty good.”Reuse content