Jamie Vardy double lifts Leicester and piles more misery on Norwich
Normal service has been resumed. Jamie Vardy, without a goal since 1 March, scored twice in eight minutes to return Leicester City to the top half of the Premier League with their first win in eight games as Norwich City’s loyal fans celebrated their biennial relegation from the top flight with unstinting irony.
At set triggers, the Norwich fans launched into synchronised leaping and singing, even after James Maddison scored the 78th goal against them this season, the most they have conceded in a top‑flight season. Their last four seasons in the Premier League have ended in relegation but Dean Smith is relishing the challenge ahead.
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 against Roma last week, this was a reminder that the hunger still burns brightly in the stomachs of Vardy, Maddison and, even if his days appear numbered at Leicester, Youri Tielemans.
“I thought he was excellent tonight,” Brendan Rodgers said of the midfielder being linked with a move to Arsenal. “The speculation shines a light on him. For me, he’s still the same guy, his professionalism is first class. That’s why I always play him.”
Both managers are looking forward to this season ending, for different reasons. “I’ve applied to the Premier League to ask if we can play Wolves tomorrow and Tottenham on Friday,” Dean Smith joked. “It won’t be a big rebuild in the summer. We’ve got players more than capable of performing strongly in the Championship.”
This may have been a dead rubber to the neutral but for Rodgers it was dead serious. Eight games without a win would have constituted 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, after Wesley Fofana dropped out late on with a tight calf.
“We don’t want the season to go out with a whimper,” the Leicester manager said. “It felt a bit flat at the weekend [in losing 2-1 at home against Everton] but we had a good chat. We want to finish in the top 10. In the summer, we’ll look to improve the squad, have a good pre-season and be ready to go flying into next season.”
Back in came Vardy, Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Ademola Lookman and James Justin, but if anything the team was too attack-orientated in the first half, susceptible to the counterattack, and it took the half‑time introduction of Nampalys Mendy, a midfielder happy to hold, to redress the balance.
Gunn, who replaced Tim Krul in the Norwich goal, had twice saved from Maddison, and from Vardy on the follow-up, in the opening dozen minutes but Norwich had their chances.
Tony Springett, on his full debut, was in an inconceivable amount of space when found by Milot Rashica but Kasper Schmeichel saved both his effort and that of Teemu Pukki, who hit the post in first-half stoppage time when sent away by Springett.
“There was too much space in the game for me in the first half,” Rodgers said. “So we changed the structure of the midfield, and from the first roll of the ball, we were much better in the second half.”
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 Grant Hanley’s block and looped over Gunn for the veteran striker’s 13th goal of the season.
His 14th soon followed. Again Barnes was the provider as the winger collected Justin’s short pass before playing 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.