Updated: Mar 1, 2020
Deprived of their prize fighter Jamie Vardy, Leicester have lost their punch at just the wrong time. As their most famous fan Delia Smith danced in the stands to celebrate only Norwich’s fifth victory of the season, Brendan Rodgers must find the recipe to prevent his team’s march towards Champions League football from grinding to a halt.
The first league goal of Jamal Lewis’ career – a superb left-foot volley – moved bottom club Norwich to within four points of safety, while Leicester’s alarming dip in 2020 has given their closest rivals hope – Rodgers’ men have taken just 12 points from their last 12 matches.
Before their 1-1 draw with the Canaries at King Power Stadium on December 14, Leicester had a 14-point cushion to fifth place and some fans were dreaming of challenging Liverpool for the title. If Manchester United win at Everton on Sunday, that gap will be cut to six.
The Foxes must feel the world is against them. After Vardy’s damaged calf – the 17-goal forward’s third muscle injury inside two months – ruled him out, his replacement Kelechi Iheanacho thought he had opened the scoring early in the second half, only for the goal to be chalked off for handball after a VAR check.
Rodgers exchanged words with fourth official Jarred Gillett immediately afterwards and
at full-time four Leicester players – Jonny Evans, Ben Chilwell, James Maddison and Iheanacho – remonstrated with referee Craig Pawson.
‘It hit Kelechi’s hand but I don’t know what [else] he could have done,’ said Rodgers. ‘We’re in a fantastic position with 10 games to go but we can’t dance around the truth. We need to find that quality.
‘[Vardy’s injuries] are a concern and we’ve spoken about that with him and the medical team, but he should be back for the Aston Villa game (on March 9).’
The VAR call will be particularly painful after last weekend, when Leicester were baffled that the system did not award them at least one penalty in the 1-0 home defeat by Manchester City. Yet Leicester’s players need to take a closer look at their own performances.
Against the basement club, the visitors struggled to create clear chances. On his first appearance at Carrow Road since he joined Leicester for a possible £24million two years ago, James Maddison was desperately poor. When his team-mates created openings, they either chose the wrong pass or failed to strike the ball cleanly. Iheanacho tried his best but was largely starved of service.
In the first half, Harvey Barnes twice wasted promising positions on the left, and Ayoze Perez struck weakly at Tim Krul from 20 yards after a neat piece of skill to make room for the shot.
The best chance of a tense opening period fell to Norwich, when Ondrej Duda – impressive throughout – found Ben Godfrey unmarked at the far post, but the defender headed weakly at Kasper Schmeichel.
Leicester believed they had made the perfect start to the second half when Iheanacho held off Godfrey and sent a crisp left-foot shot into the corner from 20 yards, only for VAR to instruct referee Craig Pawson to rule out the goal for handball.
The ball did bounce off Iheanacho’s hand as he tussled with Godfrey and while there appeared no intent to handle, the VAR decision was consistent with others that have been made this season, notably against West Ham’s Declan Rice at Sheffield United on January 10.
That reprieve gave Norwich hope and they started to test Leicester again, with Kasper Schmeichel tipping over Duda’s thunderbolt from 25 yards. At the other end, Barnes cut in from the left into a promising position, only to guide the ball into the arms of Krul.
The Dane was again at his best in the 65th minute to deny Duda from point-blank range as Norwich failed to make the most of a five-on-three counter-attack.
Yet Norwich did eventually make the breakthrough 20 minutes team when the excellent Max Aarons crossed from the right and Lewis – his fellow full-back – was given too much time and strike a perfect volley into the bottom corner.
‘I’ve never seen him strike a ball like that and I’m delighted for him,’ said Norwich boss Daniel Farke. ‘It’s been a tough first season for him in the Premier League but he was solid in terms of defending and end product.
‘To stay in the Premier League after spending hardly any money in the summer, and the injuries we’ve had, would be a little miracle but we are here to create something special.’