Leeds supporters were enjoying an evening of watching them beat Leicester while baiting James Maddison, until Jamie Vardy’s introduction changed everything.
For well over an hour at Elland Road, it felt as though James Maddison had long surrendered a losing battle, having contrived to pick entirely the wrong one in the first place. As naturally as the pantomime villain boot fits, there are more appropriate times to bed it in than a relegation six-pointer under the midweek floodlights in a hostile West Yorkshire environment.
It started innocently enough, with a sedentary Maddison cheekily indicating how close he had come to meeting a dangerous Kelechi Iheanacho cross when he was predictably goaded by the home supporters. But it soon descended into something far less well-natured after the Leicester playmaker won a free-kick, stood over it and egged the same fans on by waving his arms as they accused him of moonlighting as a merchant banker.
A subsequent overhit delivery which qualified as neither a shot nor a cross was not the most resounding riposte. But it did sum up a performance which was actively detrimental to Leicester’s hopes at times.
Maddison bears a substantial burden as Leicester’s chief creator but it weighed heavy here. Every free-kick and corner was too low and achieved a laughable consistency in failing to clear the first man. The flicks did not pay off. A ferocious Leeds press gave him no space and the home fans delighted in that inability to start a fire when starved of oxygen. Maddison played the crowd instead of the game and ended up being consumed by both.
I will not survive another 5 games like this.
Changes made a massive difference, Maddison absolutely unplayable last 20.
Coming back like that will give momentum at least.
Keep the faith. 🦊 #lcfc
— Jamie Thorpe (@thorpie54) April 25, 2023
Yet the last laugh was his as soon as Dean Smith provided the setup to a punchline the Premier League has not indulged in often enough this season. When the anonymous Tete and ineffective Harvey Barnes were withdrawn in the 70th minute, the sight of Jamie Vardy and Patson Daka – actual willing runners, agents of chaos and moving targets to aim at – must have been quite the relief.
Maddison completed two tackles and one dribble, creating one chance with a 72% pass-success rate before that double substitution. In the 20 minutes plus stoppage time thereafter, he completed one tackle and one dribble, creating three chances without misplacing a single pass.
The difference was stark. Leeds had been dropping deeper and gradually giving up more ground to Leicester throughout the second half, but it was not until the final quarter of an hour that the shaky Illan Meslier was actually tested with a shot on target as the visitors chased an equaliser. Kelechi Iheanacho forced the Frenchman into a couple of saves, only for the Foxes forward to make a heroic contribution to the inevitable leveller.
The latest in a long line of Leicester counter-attacks resulting from forced Leeds turnovers landed at the feet of Iheanacho, who slipped in Maddison despite pulling his groin when evading a Liam Cooper tackle. The final pass to Vardy was as perfect as the finish which followed.
The 36-year-old started the season with a 14-goal head start over Mo Salah, which the Liverpool forward has summarily dismantled. But this drew them level in joint-14th of the all-time Premier League charts with 136 apiece.
Vardy is unlikely to encounter as forgiving a defence as this in his quest to pull ahead of Salah once more. Leeds took a deserved lead through Luis Sinisterra’s excellent header from a Jack Harrison cross, but squandered it with a passive approach and no real attempt to shift that negative momentum. The first of their two changes was enforced – and Crysencio Summerville was brilliant as an early substitute – but Brenden Aaronson alone was never going to preserve those three points when more midfield control was needed.
The American forward and Marc Roca both had late efforts saved by Daniel Iversen before Patrick Bamford’s inexplicable miss when unmarked at the back post from a corner, getting his legs in the sort of tangle which emphasised just how much of an anomaly the 2020/21 season was in his overall career.
It would have been a winner Leeds had not justified in the second half, so unambitious and compliant was their display. That only negated a passionate crowd which Maddison did the most of anyone to fire up. The shush after his assist and that smile at the half-hearted abuse thrown in his general direction just before taking a stoppage-time corner the hosts scrambled clear said more than enough.
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