Normal service has been resumed. Jamie Vardy, without a goal since March 1, scored twice in eight minutes to return Leicester to the top half of the Premier League with their first win in eight games as Norwich’s loyal fans celebrated their biennial relegation from the top flight with unstinting irony.
At set triggers, the Norwich fans would launch into synchronized song, even after James Maddison scored the 78th goal against them this season, the most they have conceded in a top-flight season.
Maddison made the game safe 20 minutes from time as he leathered the ball home, left-footed, from 12 yards out after Angus Gunn could only parry Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s fierce cross from the inside-left channel of the penalty area.
Leicester’s resources have been stretched to breaking point at times this season but, after the disappointment of losing in the Europa Conference League semi-final to Roma last week, this was a reminder that hunger still burns brightly in the stomachs of Vardy and Maddison at at least.
This may have been a dead rubber to the neutral but for Brendan Rodgers, it was dead serious. Eight games without a win would constitute Leicester’s worst run since Claudio Ranieri was dismissed in February 2017 – Claude Puel departed after seven – and he responded by selecting his strongest available XI.
Back in came Vardy, Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Ademola Lookman and James Justin, after Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat by Everton, as Leicester looked for the win that would take them a step closer towards a top-half finish. Wesley Fofana was injured late on before the game but Rodgers’ offensive intentions were clear for all to see and there was no lack of confidence as Maddison started taking pot-shots at Gunn, who replaced Tim Krul in the Norwich goal.
Gunn parried the playmaker’s effort, and that of Vardy on the follow-up, before palming behind Maddison’s next powerful shot, following Dewsbury-Hall’s patient pass into his path.
With Dewsbury-Hall and Youri Tielemans the alleged holding midfielders in Leicester’s 4-2-3-1 shape, however, there were startling gaps into which Norwich were invited to counterattack.
When Milot Rashica got in front of Justin down the right and crossed, full debutant Tony Springett was in an inconceivable amount of space in the middle. His shot was blocked by Kasper Schmeichel, however, as was the subsequent shot by Teemu Pukki.
The Leicester captain then saved from Dimitris Giannoulis, who was again free after Max Aarons’ cross was deflected out his way, and, after Gunn used his feet to deny Lookman’s close-range effort, Pukki was sent clear right before half-time by Springett’s simple through pass. The Finland striker cut back inside Daniel Amartey, who slipped over, and wrongfooted Schmeichel only to see his right-footed shot rebound off the inside of the near post.
Rodgers responded to the helter-skelter exchanges of the opening half by replacing Lookman with Nampalys Mendy, freeing up Maddison and Tielemans. Relief soon followed.
No sooner had Vardy had one rocket of a shot headed out by Grant Hanley than the combination led to the breakthrough goal. Vardy made one of his trademark runs in behind down the left channel, from Barnes’s pass, before cutting back in on to his right foot. The shot was powerful but did not look goal-bound until it ricocheted off Hanley’s block and looped over Gunn for Vardy’s first goal in more than two months.
His second in eight minutes in effect killed the game. Again Barnes was the provider as the winger collected Justin’s short pass and then played a perfectly timed through ball for Vardy to run off the back of Hanley and unload a lusty left-footer into the near top corner.
The former England striker almost completed a 10-minute hat-trick only for his right-foot shot from the other side of the penalty area to slide past the wrong side of the far post.