Maddison eases Leicester to win to deepen Nottingham Forest’s woes
Just as the conversation around James Maddison’s continued England exclusion was beginning to grow tiresome, he turned in an irresistible display as Leicester City routed rivals Nottingham Forest to move off the bottom of the table and pile the pressure on Steve Cooper, who conceded his team are still adapting to the harshest of surroundings. Maddison was the architect as Leicester recorded their first win of the season to trade places with Forest, who have lost five games in a row for the first time since 2004, conceding 18 goals across their wretched run.
Maddison scored twice and Harvey Barnes and the substitute Patson Daka, with a beautiful flick to convert a fizzed Maddison pass, also got on the scoresheet as Leicester traded places with Forest. By the end there were Oles as the home support crowed about the ease of victory. It felt significant that the Forest fans present offered Cooper their unadulterated backing, loudly singing his name with 20 minutes to go but whether owner Evangelos Marinakis still holds a manager who led them back to the Premier League after 23 years away in the same esteem remains to be seen.
There was no masking the magnitude of the occasion for both teams, or indeed both managers. Brendan Rodgers acknowledged the heat was on but insisted his players would thrive in what proved an electric atmosphere. And how they did. Maddison’s free-kick from the edge of the D that kissed a post was the pick of the goals. The free-kick was awarded after Cheikhou Kouyaté, among three Forest players hooked at half-time, tripped the bubbly Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall but Maddison’s nonchalant flicked pass infield to Youri Tielemans kickstarted the attack.
Before kick-off Leicester’s supporters unfurled a giant tifo that depicted Wes Morgan lifting the Premier League title in 2016, seconds after the home support relived that iconic moment courtesy of a moving pre-match montage on the big screens. Leicester cannot begin to think about trophies anytime soon but with 35 minutes on the clock the mood was akin to that unparalleled season, with Leicester cruising at 3-0. Jamie Vardy was enjoying himself, sticking his tongue out as Leicester hunted a fourth. By that point a huddle of Forest players had started an inquest of their own as Leicester celebrated, remonstrating with one another about the alarming capitulation.
The hosts began with gusto and, after surviving a series of early Forest corners, they set about hurting their East Midlands rivals. Half of the stadium assumed Dewsbury-Hall had scored when he headed wide on five minutes after Maddison twice wrung Renan Lodi, who appeared exposed at left-back, inside-out and scooped a cross towards the back post and Vardy, restored to the starting lineup in Leicester’s only change, headed wide unmarked from a clever free-kick routine and snatched at another chance. Leicester, who last month hired a specialist set-piece coach, seemed determined to show off their homework and Vardy almost latched on to another free-kick.
Forest actually should have taken the lead on 22 minutes but Taiwo Awoniyi clipped a post after being freed through on goal by Morgan Gibbs-White and three minutes later Dean Henderson was fishing the ball out of the Forest net. Jesse Lingard’s poor clearance dropped kindly for Maddison to take a touch and then curl an effort at goal, which deflected in via Scott McKenna. Maddison made the pitch his playground and less than two minutes later he helped Leicester double their advantage with a sumptuous diagonal pass in search of Vardy from inside his own half. Vardy located Barnes, who cut inside Neco Williams and emphatically blasted the ball into the far corner.
Barnes’s strike got the seal of approval from the Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who applauded in the directors’ box. Replays of the goal would have made pleasing viewing on the monitor in front of the owner’s seat. Maddison was grooving and this stadium was rocking. Forest were painfully open and after Maddison curled in a third Cooper, head bowed, traipsed back towards his seat in the away dugout. Some Forest fans headed for the concourses.
Cooper decided to match-up Leicester by adopting a similar 4-2-3-1 but his plan was in tatters by the break, at which point he hooked Kouyaté, Lewis O’Brien and Williams, with the latter replaced by Serge Aurier for his Forest debut. For Leicester, this was a perfect night. They were invigorated by a front-foot, expressive performance but supporters did have to stomach the odd hairy moment.
Danny Ward’s hesitation almost handed Forest a route back into the game after the break. McKenna’s long ball upfield released Awoniyi and Ward dallied as he debated whether to rush out of goal. Eventually Ward decided to confront the Forest striker but Awoniyi could not beat the Leicester goalkeeper and Brennan Johnson, for once, was too slow to tuck in the rebound. At full-time Cooper went over to the fans and raised the palm of his hand. It looked like an apology but it would be no surprise if it turned out to be a goodbye.