So it looks like Chris Wilder wasn’t the problem at Sheffield United. Luxury that. In their first game in nearly five years without the coach that inspired their rise from League One to the top flight, the Blades fell in the toughest loss of a harrowing season. Leicester, eager to consolidate its position in the top four, could have won by even more as Brendan Rodgers’ team outscored their visitors. Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first hat-trick for the club and Ayoze Pérez scored a fine goal before Ethan Ampadu converted a Jamie Vardy shot into his own goal.
United were temporarily in charge of their Under-23 coach Paul Heckingbottom, who made a name for himself at Barnsley but more recently endured short and unhappy reigns at Leeds and Hibernian. There was little scope for him to make sweeping changes to Wilder’s formula before this game, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the Blades with their proven and increasingly unreliable style. If United players were dismayed by Wilder’s departure, they did not show it, as lack of effort could not be detected. Quality, on the other hand, was in short supply.
With his first touch United started, the second was a control error by Ollie Norwood. That set the stage for a first half that Leicester dominated, in part because on the few occasions United had the ball, they blew it. Vardy was the first to threaten. He trailed a deflected shot from 20 yards, but the fact that it came after he dispossessed one of United’s forwards, Billy Sharp, midway into the United half encapsulated the pattern of play. Leicester was hungry, the visitors were careless.
Vardy got involved again in the 12th minute, spraying the deflected ball for Timothy Castagne to cross from the left. Pérez launched himself into the area and launched a header past the goalkeeper but against the foot of the post. Pérez, who is returning to the full-back after a month off due to injury, received an interesting role from Rodgers, deployed just behind the two forwards Vardy and Iheanacho in an effort to help fill the creativity deficit caused by James’ absences. Maddison and Harvey Barnes. . The plan worked well.
Although United defended tenaciously, they were unable to eradicate mistakes. Vardy nearly broke through after stealing the ball from Kean Bryan in the United area, but Aaron Ramsdale saved with his legs. At the other extreme, Kasper Schmeichel must have felt like an extra in a movie filmed on another set.
Leicester needed to avoid repeating the history they have seen too often at home this season, in which they hog the ball for long periods but end up losing points. So there was both relief and joy when they finally turned possession into penetration in the 38th minute. Pérez created the goal by throwing a skillful pass behind Chris Basham and in the way of Vardy, who sent a perfect cross from the left, leaving Iheanacho to fit into the network from close up.
Leicester never seemed to let the advantage slip away. Iheanacho gave Vardy a chance to make it 2-0 just after halftime, selflessly slashing the ball for his teammate when he could have shot himself. Vardy hit the ball toward the goal from seven yards, but Basham repelled it with a tremendous header off the line. Moments later Ramsdale denied Vardy after another cute pass from Iheanacho.
Leicester finally secured their second in the 64th minute thanks to a quick counterattack and another display of their superior acuity. After a United free throw was cleared at the other end, Marc Albrighton caught George Baldock wasting time on the ball and ran downfield before feeding Perez, who guided a good shot into the net from 20 yards.
Iheanacho claimed his second goal of the match – and the fourth in three games – by delivering a forceful shot after another cross from the left by Vardy, who had been released by Youri Tielemans. The Belgian was about to enter the roster moments later, but was thwarted by another clearance from a goalline.
Soon Iheanacho completed his hat-trick, hitting the net from afar after Ampadu stole the ball from him in midfield.
All Leicester lacked was a goal for Vardy. He had to settle for another assist when he threw the ball into goal and Ampadu deflected it into the net.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism