Shinji Okazaki swings into action for Leicester City

Leicester City 1 Newcastle United 0: Even in his wildest dreams, you doubt Shinji Okazaki could have pictured his first goal at the King Power Stadium quite like this.
Shinji Okazaki swings into action for Leicester City

Looking a little nervous and in need of a goal against a Newcastle United side buoyed by the appointment of Rafael Benitez, Leicester City were searching for someone to be a hero.

Okazaki stepped forward and in spectacular fashion.

The striker’s goal was real Roy of the Rovers stuff and a thing of beauty as he bicycle-kicked a Jamie Vardy knockdown past the stunned Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot.

“Fair play to Shinji, he works his socks off for the team and he deserves the goal,” said Vardy last night.

“There’s still a very long way to go. We’ll take it one game at a time. It really is one game at a time, it always has been.”

It summed up the crazy and unpredictable nature of this season; and more importantly it restored Leicester’s lead at the top of the Premier League to five points.

Never mind scoring a goal worthy of winning any match, Okazaki had scored a goal that could prove worthy of winning a league title.

It is certainly one that will go down in Leicester folklore and a timely reminder that — just when we thought we had seen it all at the King Power — the best may be yet be to come.

Given their flying form it was no surprise to see Leicester name an unchanged team from the one that beat Watford over a week ago, however Newcastle’s decision to opt for a 4-4-2 formation against a side who love to play on the counter-attack raised a few eyebrows.

But Benitez’s boldness appeared to be paying dividends in the opening minutes as the visitors twice went close. First Ayoze Perez side-footed an effort just wide from inside the box, before Jack Colback grazed the outside of the post with a rasping drive.

After that nervy start, Leicester began to find their rhythm as Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton started to cause problems down the flanks.

Newcastle, however, were sourcing their own joy from out wide too and Mohamed Sissoko’s wasted back-post header was a warning to Leicester that they could be undone by their own counter-attacking game.

With both teams threatening to break the deadlock, a goal seemed on the cards and when it did come, it was a thing of beauty.

Mahrez hooked in a free-kick from the right and, when Vardy headed back across the six-yard box, Okazaki expertly bicycle-kicked the ball past a helpless Elliot.

Suddenly, any nerves which had be on display from Ranieri’s men in the opening minutes evaporated as they poured forward in such of a killer second goal.

And they should have had it moments after Okazaki’s opener, as Albrighton robbed the ball in the Newcastle half before curling an effort millimetres wide of the right-hand post.

Leicester were running riot and it took a last-ditch tackle from Steven Taylor to thwart yet another surging run from Vardy into the penalty area.

Newcastle managed to hold out until half-time but the resurgent Foxes now had them in their sights as they looked for that all important second goal.

No doubt with Bentiez’s words ringing in their ears, Newcastle started the second-half determined to find a route back into the match.

Andros Townsend was also thrown on after just 10 minutes as the visitors opted to throw caution to the wind.

Perez saw an effort rattle the side-netting after taking a deflection off N’Golo Kante.

Ranieri responded as man of the hour Okazaki made way for Jeff Schlupp and Leicester switched to a 4-5-1 formation.

And the Ghanaian almost had an instant impact as Mahrez slid him in down the left, but Daryl Janmaat was on hand to make a crucial block.

Leicester’s inability to find the second goal meant that, as the game crept into the final 10 minutes, there was still a fear the visitors could spoil the party.

That fear very nearly became a reality when a Sissoko volley was heroically blocked by a lunging Wes Morgan.

Newcastle suddenly believed they could snatch a point but they spurned another chance when sub Siem de Jong scuffed Mitrovic’s set inside the box.

Leicester were fighting to hold on and Ranieri urged the crowd to get behind the team. They did just that and, when the full-time whistle finally went, the relief reverberated around the King Power in the form of a huge cheer. 30 games down, eight to go.

The Leicester fairytale is slowly but surely becoming a reality.

LEICESTER CITY (4-4-2): Schmeichel 6; Simpson 6, Huth 7, Morgan 6, Fuchs 7; Mahrez 7, Kante 8, Drinkwater 6, Albrighton 7 (75 Ulloa 6); Okazaki 8 (63 Schlupp 6), Vardy 7.

Subs not used: Schwarzer, Wasilewski, Amartey, Inler, Gray.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Elliot 6; Janmaat 7, Taylor 6, Lascelles 7, Colback 6; Perez 7 (70 De Jong 5), Anita 5 (55 Townsend 6), Shelvey 6 (86 Doumbia 5), Sissoko 7; Wijnaldum 5, Mitrovic 6.

Subs not used: Darlow, Sterry, Saivet, Riviere.

Referee: Craig Pawson

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