Leicester 3 Aston Villa 2: Claudio Ranieri hailed the spirit and character of his players after seeing Leicester stage a remarkable comeback to defeat Midlands rivals Aston Villa 3-2.
The Foxes looked like losing their unbeaten start to the season after a couple of wonderful curling efforts from Jack Grealish — his first goal for Villa — and Carles Gil put the visitors firmly in the driving seat with less than half an hour to go.
But goals from Ritchie De Laet, whose effort was awarded with the aid of goal-line technology, Jamie Vardy and substitute Nathan Dyer, making his debut following his loan arrival from Swansea during the international break, saw Ranieri’s men snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“My players were fantastic — fantastic spirit and character,” said the affable Italian.
“At 2-0, I look at my players and they still believe it is possible. That is the spirit I love. The players believed in something good as a group and that is what I want.
“You can lose, of course, but it is important to fight until the end of the match,” he said.
Called the Tinkerman from his previous spell in England with Chelsea a decade ago, Ranieri’s return has actually been notable for his lack of changes.
Yesterday was the first time he had swapped more than one player from the previous starting line-up, as Gokhan Inler was handed his full Premier League debut in place of Andy King and Shinji Okazaki replaced Ngolo Kante.
But it was his changes during the game that helped swing things back Leicester’s way, introducing Dyer at half-time and moving Riyad Mahrez into a more central role before bringing on Leonardo Ulloa and Kante immediately after Villa went 2-0 ahead.
But the 63-year-old was quick to deflect any praise back on to his players.
“I saw that the team wanted something different, to keep the spirit going,” he said.
All those months spent towards the foot of the table last season now seem a distant memory with Leicester up to second after this victory.
However, maintaining the club’s top-flight status remains the aim for Ranieri.
“I talk to the players and say we have 11 points — we need another 29,” he added. “I don’t know when we will achieve this, which month, but the sooner the better. This is our goal. I don’t think about what we can do, I just want the best.”
After Dyer’s brave late header completed the fightback, the winger remained on the ground for a couple of minutes after being clattering by goalkeeper Brad Guzan. And Ranieri reserved some special praise for his latest signing.
He said: “It was very brave but every time he received the ball it was good for the team.”
For just over an hour it was probably Villa’s best performance of the season but they remain without a league win since the opening day and manager Tim Sherwood could not hide his dejection.
“I’ve never felt this bad, ever. Who cares? Who cares if we played well?” he said.
“I’m bitterly disappointed for everyone associated with the club because the game is won with around 30 minutes to go. The game was done, it was finished with us 2-0 up. At this level, the game should be dead and buried.”
Schmeichel, De Laet, Huth, Morgan, Schlupp, Mahrez, Inler (Kante 64), Drinkwater, Albrighton (Ulloa 64), Okazaki (Dyer 46),Vardy.
Guzan, Bacuna (Hutton 86),Richards, Lescott, Amavi, Sanchez, Westwood, Gil (Ayew 66), Grealish, Sinclair, Agbonlahor (Gestede 75).
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