Thursday 24 April 2014
Leicester City leapt into the top four of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League at the expense of Manchester City, following a stirring comeback victory over Patrick Vieira's team at the King Power Stadium.
Manchester City looked as though they had produced the perfect response to their galling 4-3 aggregate defeat to Reading in the inaugural Under-21 Premier League Cup final on Saturday when they raced into a two-goal lead thanks to goals either side of half-time by Devante Cole and Olivier Ntcham. But after Tom Hopper had halved the deficit, the visitors conceded two goals in four second-half minutes, exactly as they had done on Saturday, as Sean St Ledger and Hopper scored on 84 and 88 minutes to earn the Foxes victory.
The win in Leicester's final match of the regular season was their seventh in eight Barclays Under-21 Premier League matches, and moves them into fourth, with only Manchester United, who take on Reading at the Madejski Stadium this evening, and Manchester City, who host Aston Villa on Sunday, in a position to deny them a play-off spot.
"We saw the spirit and desire to win shine through from the players, and the winning goal epitomised what we were all about"
A win would have put Vieira's side in touching distance of those play-offs, but without three of this season's major players, defenders Adam Drury and Jason Denayer, as well as captain Marcos Lopes, and in wet conditions, they let slip a two-goal lead.
Manchester City had started well enough, taking the lead just before the half-hour when Cole pounced on a miscontrolled backpass, cut inside from the left and curled a fine effort past Adam Smith. The England Under-19 forward almost doubled his tally but failed to convert Sinan Bytyqi's centre soon afterwards. The visiting side did not have long to wait for their second, however, as Mtcham swivelled on the edge of the area to poke an instinctive shot into the bottom corner seven minutes after the interval.
With the Citizens in control they were surprised by a quick response as Hopper pounced on Jacob Blyth's knockdown from Michael Cain's free-kick to reduce the arrears on 55 minutes. Leicester threw everything at Vieira's side in the final half-hour and found an equaliser when another Cain delivery was headed in by St Ledger with six minutes to go.
With the clock running down Leicester surged forward again, knowing another goal would reignite their play-off hopes, and when Harry Panayiotou picked out Marcel Barrington, the substitute’s neat flick across goal fell into the path of Hopper to slot the ball into an empty net and complete a stunning comeback.
"I don't think we were at our best in the first half because our shape didn't allow us to press as we have been doing, but in the second half Nicky Eaden and I wanted them to show what they were capable of," Leicester U21 manager Steve Beaglehole told the club's website. "We changed the shape to 4-4-2 and from then we were brave and took the game to them. We got back in it at 2-1, and I thought we could go on and get something.
"Then we saw the spirit and desire to win shine through from the players, and the winning goal epitomised what we were all about. The ball looked to be going out, but Marcel Barrington was desperate to keep it in. He did, and Tom Hopper scored the winner."
To reach the play-offs Leicester need Reading to beat Manchester United at the Madejski Stadium tonight and hope that City fail to beat Villa on Sunday.
Wednesday 23 April
Leicester City (Hopper 2, St Ledger) 3-2 Manchester City (Cole, Nthcam)
Thursday 24 April
7pm Reading v Manchester United, Madejski Stadium
Friday 25 April, 2014
1pm Newcastle United v Arsenal, NUFC Training Centre
Sunday, 27 April, 2014
Midday Manchester City v Aston Villa, Etihad Stadium
2pm Tottenham Hotspur v Reading, Stevenage FC