Leicester find themselves in the slightly odd if not uncommon end-of-season scenario where, with league results now chiefly meaningless, the most irritating moment of their afternoon at Newcastle was not their hosts’ last-gasp winner.
The nature of the first goal Leicester conceded will be far more vexing for Brendan Rodgers because that, rather than a dramatic breakaway winner scored thanks to some brilliance from Joe Willock on the left and a lung-busting run forward from Bruno Guimaraes to be in the right place at the right time as the clock ticked past 94 minutes, has graver implications for the remaining matches that do matter.
Leicester are in mid-table and are going to remain there. They are also in the Europa Conference semi-finals. There is no doubt about which matches matter most for Leicester over the next six weeks. But they do, irritatingly, still even after this game have eight more league obligations to tick off. There are pros and cons to this situation. On a most basic level, watching and supporting a football team can often be enormously stressful. The possible joy of that stress is what makes it all worthwhile but at the same time it’s nice on a Sunny April Sunday to just be able to watch your team play knowing there is no vast significance to attach to either success or failure. Nice if you win, sure, but it won’t ruin your weekend quite as much as those big games can when you still have something to play for at one end or the other.
Newcastle were still just about in that position, and the scenes after that late, late Bruno winner told you that nobody here was yet taking survival for granted. With 37 points, they really can relax now. None of the bottom three are getting to 37, and Everton probably aren’t either given some of their remaining games are being played away from Goodison.
All eyes on the summer and whether Eddie Howe’s use of the phrase “new contract for Sean Longstaff” really is code for “Announce Mbappe”.
For Leicester, though, an annoying game even before that late goal that mattered far more to Newcastle than it did to them. Because they started really quite well despite the understandable eight changes from Thursday night’s fine comeback in Eindhoven. There was even an early reminder of one of the benefits of Premier League games as elite training sessions; you are that bit freer to try new things.
The corner routine that led to the opening goal really was lovely, and it required so many moving parts to all get to the right place at the right team. Against a team that defends corners deep as Newcastle do, it was brutally effective. Three Leicester plays made runs to the six-yard line, dragging defenders with them to leave the penalty spot area unguarded. Ayoze Perez made a run to the near post, and the delivery from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was spot on for him to flick the ball into the path of Ademola Lookman, arriving late into that newly vacated space 12 yards from goal. The choreography even included a Plan B/safety net in the run from Nampalys Mendy towards where Lookman had been on the edge of the box. If the flick went wrong, it may have either broken to him for his own strike at goal, while he was also in position to cut out any possible Newcastle counter.
A thing of beauty, brilliantly conceived and spectacularly executed. There were eight Leicester players involved even though only three touched the ball and who knows how many coaches and time on the training ground. Which all only adds to the annoyance of how very, very, stupidly and contrastingly straightforward it was for Newcastle to equalise from a corner of their own 11 minutes later as Bruno capitalised on a Kasper Schmeichel error to stab the ball through the keeper’s legs from close range.
More than anything else, the constant concession of goals from set-pieces has derailed Leicester’s league season and left them now focused so utterly on Europe. And with Jose Mourinho’s Roma lying in wait in those semi-finals, you can be certain the miserable old sod has been watching and will be all too happy to exploit that weakness.
It may only have been an equaliser in a game that didn’t really matter to Leicester, but it was further evidence of an ongoing problem. It’s done for their domestic season, and could still do likewise in Europe.
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