Leicester City 0 Newcastle United 1
- Chris Kavanagh
Ayoze Pérez’s first half winner gave Newcastle United a vital away victory at Leicester City on Friday night.
It took a wonderfully disciplined, committed and spirited performance from Rafa Benítez’s side to secure the three points at the King Power Stadium, which they held onto from the moment Pérez headed home Matt Ritchie’s excellent cross with 31 minutes gone.
They could have had more, too, as they peppered the Foxes on the counter attack, but in the end it was United’s stellar defensive work that earned the victory, which takes them onto 38 points for the season – the total Benítez had targeted in recent weeks.
After a tentative start from both sides which saw Jamaal Lascelles’s header saved by Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy’s flick comfortably gathered by Martin Dúbravka, United went agonisingly close to drawing first blood. Salomón Rondón stepped up and curled a 25-yard free kick over the wall but, unlike his effort at Bournemouth last month, it cannoned back off the woodwork and was scrambled to safety.
Full back Ben Chilwell responded after a lengthy spell of possession for the Foxes, forcing Dúbravka to palm away his low shot but with half an hour played – and with Miguel Almirón having tried his luck a few minutes earlier – Benítez’s men took the lead. The Paraguayan, working in tandem with Ritchie down the left, couldn’t beat his man but the latter could, and he sent over an inviting cross which Pérez glanced beyond Leicester’s custodian and into the far corner.
It was no less than United had deserved as, despite seeing the ball far less than the Foxes in the first half, they had created the clearer openings as they looked to hit Brendan Rodgers’ side on the counter, frustrating the hosts with their resilience. That much was evident in Youri Tielemans’ late challenge on Ki Sung-yueng, for which the Belgian was fortunate to escape with a yellow card.
Leicester returned for the restart with renewed intent and Wilfred Ndidi blasted over, but they still seemed to have no way of halting Newcastle’s rapid breaks. Most involved Almirón, whose pace caused plenty of problems, but when Rondón’s cross came over from the left neither Pérez nor Almíron could make meaningful contact with it, and the chance was gone.
But they came back for more, and Fabian Schär embarked on a mazy 60-yard run which took him to the edge of the box. He picked out the unmarked Almirón on the left, but the shot was too high to trouble Schmeichel.
At the other end, United stayed solid. Crosses came from both flanks but the central defensive trio of Schär, Lascelles and Paul Dummett repelled them. The Magpies kept breaking, too, and Pérez wriggled free in the box before forcing Schmeichel into a last-ditch stop in with quarter of an hour remaining.
James Maddison carved out a huge chance for Vardy soon after with a fine through ball, but the former England man lifted his attempt over the crossbar and it proved to be their final real opportunity, as United held on through five minutes of stoppage time to seal the win their endeavour deserved under the lights.