If this match was any indication of whether Leicester can hold their nerve in the closing months of the season then Brendan Rodgers may just achieve the seemingly impossible.
A late goal from Daniel Amartey after a mistake from goalkeeper Robert Sánchez helped them come from behind against Brighton to clinch a win that moves them up to second place and a giant step closer to Champions League qualification.
It was another cruel blow for Graham Potter’s side, who have suffered three successive defeats and are now looking even more nervously over their shoulders despite taking the lead through Adam Lallana’s first goal for the club.
But with a squad shorn of several senior players, Kelechi Iheanacho’s second half equaliser and Amartey’s late header ensured it was Rodgers who punched the air at the final whistle. “We adjusted the mentality of the team at half-time,” said Rodgers. “We had to find a way to win and the response was fantastic from a young team.”
The extent of Leicester’s injury woes meant teenager Sidnei Tavares – a cousin of former Manchester United winger Nani – was handed the first start of his senior career, while Wesley Fofana was back in defence after a month out injured.
Three successive matches without a win, that included being dumped out of the Europa League, must have left supporters feeling jittery at the prospect of a repeat of last season’s collapse that saw them pick up just 11 points from their final 12 games. Those fears were compounded within 10 minutes here when Leicester gave the ball away from a throw-in inside their own half and Neal Maupay pounced, wriggling away from a couple of challenges before setting up Lallana to slot home. It was a moment to savour for the hosts, who had racked up 66 shots in their last three matches but only managed to score one goal.
Without the pace of Harvey Barnes or the guile of James Maddison, Jamie Vardy and Iheanacho were forced to live off scraps in the first half as Leicester struggled to create a meaningful chance. Rodgers admitted this week that while Vardy is “irreplaceable”, they cannot rely on the 34-year-old for much longer and he will be looking to strengthen that part of the squad in the summer. The striker looked sharper than in last week’s defeat to Arsenal as he continues to recover from a hernia operation and it was his lay-off which teed up Tavares for a long-range effort that Sánchez did brilliantly to tip around the post at full stretch.
Lallana came within inches of scoring his second goal when a clever header from Pascal Gross’s free kick clipped the upright five minutes before half-time. Maupay then saw an effort disallowed for offside after a sumptuous flick from Lallana played in the Frenchman. Down on the touchline, Rodgers breathed a huge sigh of relief.
In contrast to Leicester, Brighton’s improved form at the end of last season ensured their safety after a difficult first campaign under Potter. While they have shown signs of improvement at times, their second-half collapse means they are worse off than this time last year and are only three points above Fulham in the final relegation spot. “It almost felt like we’d won the game at half-time. If you drop your levels you get punished,” acknowledged Lallana.
Iheanacho, who scored in the fourth minute of injury time to help Leicester edge the FA Cup tie between these sides last month, failed to hit the target after being put through by Timothy Castagne. Yet despite Lallana’s best efforts, Brighton could not find a second goal and it was an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration that allowed Leicester a route back into the game. Youri Tielemans played in Iheanacho with a magnificent no-look pass, with the Nigeria striker lobbing the ball coolly over Sánchez.
Lallana – signed from Southampton by Rodgers while he was at Liverpool – could have ruined the evening for his former manager had Kasper Schmeichel not been alert to save his first-time effort after being set up by substitute Danny Welbeck.
But with three minutes remaining and a vital point within their grasp, Sánchez inexplicably rushed off his line and watched in horror as Marc Albrighton’s corner sailed over him and onto the head of Amartey at the back post. “He made a wonderful save in the first half and you can see his quality but if it is his mistake it is not the reason we lost,” insisted Potter. “We know we are in a fight.”