Newcastle All But Safe On Premier League Table After Win Over Leicester

Rafael Benítez did a number on his fellow former Liverpool manager as Newcastle boosted their survival hopes by ending Brendan Rodgers’ winn...

Rafael Benítez did a number on his fellow former Liverpool manager as Newcastle boosted their survival hopes by ending Brendan Rodgers’ winning streak at Leicester. Rodgers’ strong four-game run came to a shuddering end as Ayoze Pérez headed the goal that gave Newcastle maximum reward for accomplished away display.

Newcastle arrived knowing that a victory would go a long way towards securing their Premier League status for next season and that, in turn, might resolve the standoff between Benítez and Mike Ashley over the manager’s future.
The Spaniard spent the buildup hinting not very subtly about the level of investment he would like to see if he stays and it was clear that it was dependent on the club remaining a top-flight concern, as well as on the owner’s willingness to spend. It was also plain that if Newcastle were to win here, they would need to produce their best away performance for months.

While Leicester were on a roll, Newcastle were in a bit of a rut, without an away win in the league since scrounging three points at Huddersfield before Christmas. Florian Lejeune’s season-ending injury forced Benitez to change personnel but not formation – he chose to stick with a three-man central defence, deploying Paul Dummett on the left of it.

The travelling that interested Leicester, meanwhile, was a potential European campaign next season. With seventh place still up for grabs, Rodgers made only one alteration to the lineup that began last week’s thrashing of Huddersfield, with Harry Maguire returning at centre-back.

Both sides began briskly. In the first minute Newcastle forced a corner from which Jamaal Lascelles got off a header that Kasper Schmeichel had to block, albeit without difficulty. Within 20 seconds the action had switched to the other end, as Martin Dubravka stopped an effort from Jamie Vardy. Soon the contest settled into the expected pattern, Leicester probing while Newcastle strived to keep them at bay and strike on the counter, with Salomón Rondón serving as an ever-willing one-man front line.

Rondón has been a big hit at Newcastle since his arrival on loan from West Bromwich Albion but before the game Benítez challenged him to take his tally of league goals for the season into double figures to help convince Ashley to pay the £16.5m required to sign him permanently this summer. He nearly made an irresistible case for that purchase in the 15th minute, when he sent a terrific free-kick from 25 yards over the wall. Schmeichel could only wave at the ball as it flew past him. He was mightily relieved to see it bounce out off the crossbar.

Leicester were struggling to pick a way through Newcastle’s defence, able only to fumble around the edges like men trying to retrieve a wallet from a prickly bush. But in the 21st minute Ben Chilwell cut through with the aid a sharp one-two Dubravka foiled his attempt to curl a shot into the bottom corner. Moments later the Slovakian thwarted Harvey Barnes, too. Then Newcastle tore forward and broke through.

Matt Ritchie’s cross from the left was perfect and so too was Pérez’s run, which enabled him to beat Wes Morgan to the ball at the near post and guide a splendid header into the net.

By half-time Benítez’s plan was looking good, and Rodgers needed to come up with a new one.

Instead Leicester deteriorated as Newcastle chased a clinching goal. A cross from the left by Rondón offered Pérez a chance to double his tally in the 52nd minute but the Spaniard miskicked from 10 yards out. Fabian Schär then went on a safari downfield before setting up Miguel Almirón, whose attempted finish was wild.

Leicester were unable to feed Vardy for most of the match and then, when Youri Tielemans finally presented him with a chance, the striker shanked the ball into the stands.

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