My work travels take me all over the world. Usually, I find a way to watch City when I can’t be there in person. This week I was in a small industrial estate in Farnborough and the signs weren’t promising when my hotel, despite having a ‘Sports Bar’ with multiple screens insisted that they would only be showing Champions League fare.
Fortunately nowadays, with the power of the interweb, I was able to find a local pub that advertised the fact that they showed football. A pleading phone call to the Tradesmans Arms secured the deal. Despite a few teething issues caused by the horrendous weather, the game was duly shown. To cap it all, my friend and colleague won the raffle and went home £50 richer.
Regrettably, the £50 was the only thing that went in our favour as City succumbed to a first home defeat of the season. David Wagner elected to bolster the midfield, perhaps mindful of the Southampton game, and Liam Gibbs made a first start of the season, leaving Ashley Barnes up front on his own.
Norwich started brightly, as seems to be the norm. In the opening minutes, a patient move from the back saw City progress upfield. The pace changed as they neared the attacking third. A great pass from Shane Duffy saw Jack Stacey with a chance on goal, keeper Hermansen making a decent save.
City continued with neat, controlled possession, without really looking too threatening. From the back, they invited Leicester to commit to the press before playing around and through it with ease. However, whilst the bulk of the possession rested with the home side, they were unable to turn it into a meaningful threat.
At the back though, City looked solid. Duffy continued his fine vein of form of late whilst both fullbacks, despite the odd hairy moment, looked to have the measure of their men too.
Duffy earned a yellow for a professional foul. Moments later, Ben Gibson matched him. No one in the pub could understand what his offence was, and neither did Barnes who earned a yellow for giving referee Scott the benefit of his years of experience and, presumably, an invitation to visit a local Specsavers.
As the half wore on, Leicester gradually gained the ascendancy although, much like City, failed to produce a threat of note.
But on 43 minutes, a Winks through ball found Mavidivi. He cleverly slowed as he entered the box and the on-rushing Christian Fassnacht planted a hand square into his back as a result, leaving the referee a simple decision to award the penalty.
Angus Gunn got a hand to it, but Iheancho’s spot kick was powerful enough to go in regardless.
From the kick-off, Kenny Mclean lost possession and Mavidivi was able to shoot straight across goal – just wide, fortunately.
At the break, early season talisman Jon Rowe was withdrawn. The City youngster had had a quiet half, perhaps more closely marshalled now that his secret is out. Przemysław Placheta was chosen for an extended opportunity to impress with his pace.
Immediately the Pole was out to work and powered past the full back with ease.
Moments later, Barnes took a knock and immediately seemed to be struggling. He continued for a few moments before being withdrawn and replaced by Adam Idah.
Idah struggled against Stoke, seemingly unable to forge a partnership with Barnes, but on his own against Leicester, he seemed more comfortable. Approaching the hour, he did well to hold the ball, move it forward and eventually win a corner. The ball came into the box but despite some pinball in the box, City were unable to fashion a shooting chance.
Moments later, City looked to have a chance to get back in the game as Dimi Giannoulis was clearly fouled. Cleary, it seemed, to all except the referee.
Onel Hernandez and Hwang Ui-jo replaced Gibbs and Fassnacht; the Swiss international, like Rowe, failing to continue his good work of late.
McLean seized on a stray pass from Hermansen and took aim from 25 yards, only for his shot to cannon off the crossbar with the keeper well beaten.
City continued to press and won a corner. Duffy must still be seeing the ball bulging in the net in his mind’s eye yet somehow Hermansen saved not only the initial header, but the follow-up too.
The game was getting a little feisty. On 75 minutes, Idah appeared to be flattened off the ball as City pressed down the right but it went unseen by the match officials.
City were well in the ascendancy and restricted the visitors’ opportunities. A City free-kick found the side-netting. By now, the pub drinkers had given up on the moneybags Champions League and were well invested in the City game.
This meant that, when the inevitable second Leicester goal came, there was a strong body of opinion available to pass judgement on its legitimacy.
Vardy played a through ball to Dewsbury-Hall behind the City back line. He crossed the ball for McAteer to tuck in.
The ball was a forward pass. Check. Dewsbury-Hall was in front of McAteer. Check. Offside. Seemingly not. The pub collective was baffled, the local expert took to searching the FA rule book to see if there was a nuance that we had all missed in the new interpretation of the rule.
Alas, no, and no VAR so the goal stood and effectively killed the game for the Champions-elect.
Did City deserve to lose? Most definitely not. They defended well and restricted Leicester to a handful of chances.
Did City deserve to win? Again, no. Despite a solid start to the game, and putting Leicester under severe pressure for much of the second, once again they struggled to create many clear-cut chances. Duffy’s header and McLean’s shot aside, there was little to genuinely worry the Leicester defence.
It’s onwards and upwards – no disgrace losing to Leicester but with the loss of Josh Sargent, and now Barnes seeming to pick up a worrying injury, the first hints of concern are beginning to emerge at the lack of punch up front.