Leicester City managed to score their first goal of 2017 and recorded their first win since New Year’s Eve on Monday night, and all it took for it to happen was the sacking of the manager who delivered the unlikeliest of Premier League titles last May.
Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a happy man in the directors’ box as the result and the manner of performance went a long way to justifying Thursday’s ruthless business decision. The outcry from the footballing world following Ranieri’s dismissal has been one of mass outrage, with the blame being firmly laid at the feet of his former players, who have seemingly managed to go from title winners to relegation-scrappers in a matter of months.
However, Leicester’s supporters were a tad more sympathetic. While there were homemade banners thanking Ranieri, the King Power Stadium was completely behind its players.
Perhaps there may have been more anger had the Leicester been floundering in mid-table, but Crystal Palace’s win at the weekend saw the Foxes drop into the bottom three for the first time this season. It was just the wake-up call that the champions needed.
The responsibility to pick Monday’s team and decide its set-up fell upon the shoulders of caretaker boss, and former Ranieri assistant, Craig Shakespeare. Indeed, this was only the second football match he has ever taken charge of, the other a win with West Bromwich Albion over a decade ago. Sensibly, he fielded virtually the title-winning side, albeit with Wilfred Ndidi filling the midfield void left by N’Golo Kante, and his side’s intent was clear right from the off.
Vardy delivered a punishing challenge on Sadio Mane just 12 seconds in as Leicester started with the fire in the belly that had been absent since August. They had three chances to open the scoring inside the opening 20 minutes but were denied by Simon Mignolet on every occasion. However, the Belgian could not deny Vardy when clean through in the 28th minute, with the striker calmly slotting it beyond him to open the scoring.
Like a proverbial London bus, another soon followed. Drinkwater delivered a thunderbolt volley after a botched clearance, striking from well outside the penalty area to put Leicester well on course for a vital three points. Vardy grabbed his second of the night to make it 3-1 with a deft header in the second half before Philippe Coutinho netted a consolation.
There were signs of support for Ranieri all throughout the night but Leicester’s focus — and their fans’ gaze, too — is now firmly fixed on Premier League survival. “We are staying up” was the chant from the home crowd before the end.
If they can put in a few more performances like the one on Monday night, remaining in the top flight shouldn’t be a problem.
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