Jamie Vardy summons Leicester’s forgotten spirit to aid survival fight

Leeds 1-1 Leicester: Vardy fired a deserved equaliser as Dean Smith’s side moved out of the bottom three

Richard Jolly
at Elland Road
Wednesday 26 April 2023 08:15 BST
Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester to end his goal drought
Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester to end his goal drought (Getty)

There was a time when Jamie Vardy dragged Leicester to a title no one expected. Now the aims are lower and the legs slower but perhaps he is changing Leicester’s history yet again. A man who has reached the 20-goal mark in three Premier League seasons instead faced the prospect of going 20 top-flight games without finding the net.

Yet with defeat at Elland Road beckoning, Dean Smith turned to his bench, saw Vardy and the substitute delivered. Kelechi Iheanacho found James Maddison who provided the defence-splitting pass. Vardy, in his favoured inside-left channel, slotted in a shot. A drought that dated back to October was ended with a typical Vardy goal. Briefly, there appeared another. He celebrated a second but was offside when he converted Patson Daka’s cross, but it nevertheless ranked as a second crucial contribution in four days. A second Leicester comeback came courtesy of Vardy.

He had won their penalty at Wolves, again with the kind of dart in behind a defence that it seemed a 36-year-old was struggling to make now. No points from meetings with relegation rivals instead became four. After one point from nine games, Leicester have four from their last two. They are out of the bottom three as a result. Seven years after becoming champions, they may not be bound for the Championship after all.

Smith merits some of the credit, too. He has always been an advocate of entertaining football and he appears to have decided that, for a team with a porous rearguard, attack is the best form of defence. He had surprised by selecting three No 9s against Wolves, in Vardy, Iheanacho and Daka. With Harvey Barnes and Maddison fit again, he demoted two of them to the bench. But a goal down, he reunited all three, shifting Maddison in the process to play off the right flank, allowing him licence to come infield. Muted for a while, Leicester suddenly surged forward, with Maddison proving too elusive for a Leeds side sorely missing the injured Tyler Adams. The previously beleaguered Illan Meslier made a terrific double save from Iheanacho and Daka, even if the latter was offside, and Leicester’s ploy of getting runners into the box brought a menace.

And a point. It was the sort of draw where each could reflect on moments that cost them victory. Leicester required a combination of Daniel Iversen and Victor Kristiansen to keep Marc Roca’s late header from crossing the line. Patrick Bamford then missed a golden chance from three yards, albeit when offside.

Yet Leicester could remember, too, the sort of spectacular strike from Youri Tielemans that, however briefly, seemed destined to join his catalogue of great goals. It sailed past Meslier, flicked the bar and nestled in the top corner. But the ball was laid off by Boubakary Soumare and, VAR proved, he was offside.

It was a reprieve that afforded Leeds an opportunity. Leicester were the better team at the start and, for a side whose previous two outings at Elland Road had finished in 5-1 and 6-1 humblings, there was the possibility for further embarrassment.

But Smith was not the only caretaker manager putting the onus on the offensive. Javi Gracia had paired Bamford with Rodrigo, who started together for the first time since October, in a front four. The Spaniard Gracia has given Leeds more width after Jesse Marsch adopted some distinctly narrow tactics and his two wingers combined for the breakthrough, Jack Harrison curled in a cross, Luis Sinisterra stole in behind the Leicester defence to head in emphatically.

Luis Sinisterra put Leeds in front
Luis Sinisterra put Leeds in front (Getty)

Sinisterra only lasted half an hour but a third goal in five games was an indication of his impact in the new regime. Harrison’s is still greater, with three goals and three assists under Gracia, all in matches where Leeds have taken points. He almost joined Leicester on deadline day, spending much of it at their training ground before a late change of heart from Leeds. If two clubs’ seasons may have shifted in the process, if Brendan Rodgers may wonder if buying Harrison would have changed the complexion of his reign, many another subsequent decision has the air of a turning point.

Gracia got the interim manager bounce but, with just one point from four games, it may be over now. Smith has had an impact, with four points from his three games. With Everton next, there is the chance to put distance between themselves and a relegation rival. If some of the talent in Leicester’s squad went untapped at the end of Rodgers’ reign, Smith has shown a willingness to trust in Caglar Soyuncu and Tielemans, who are leaving in the summer. And perhaps Vardy, one of the Foxes who famously never quit in 2016, will deliver the bite to help them survive.

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