Leeds fans were enjoying an evening watching them beat Leicester as they groomed James Maddison, until the introduction of Jamie Vardy changed everything.
For over an hour at Elland Road, it was as if James Maddison had long since surrendered a losing battle, having managed to pick the wrong one entirely in the first place. As natural as it fits in the pantomime villain’s boot, there are more appropriate times to put him to bed than a six-point relegation in the midweek spotlight in a hostile West Yorkshire environment.
It started off innocently enough, with a sedentary Maddison cheekily indicating how close he was to meeting a dangerous Kelechi Iheanacho cross when he was predictably goaded by the home fans. But it soon descended into something far less good-natured after the Leicester playmaker won a free-kick, stood over it and goaded the same fans by waving their arms as they accused him of moonlighting as a merchant banker .
A subsequent overhit delivery that qualified as neither shot nor cross was not the most sensational response. But he did recap a performance that has at times been actively damaging to Leicester’s hopes.
Maddison carries a considerable burden as Leicester’s head creator, but he weighed heavily here. Every free kick and corner kick was too low and he reached laughable consistency by failing to clear the first man. The twists and turns did not bear fruit. Fierce press from Leeds gave him no room and the home fans reveled in that inability to start a fire when starved of oxygen. Maddison played with the crowd instead of the game and ended up being consumed by both.
I won’t survive another 5 games like this.
The changes made a huge difference, Maddison absolutely unplayable in the last 20.
Coming back like this at least will give momentum.
Have faith. 🦊 #lcfc
—Jamie Thorpe (@thorpie54) April 25, 2023
Yet the last laugh was his as Dean Smith provided the setup for a punchline that the Premier League hasn’t indulged in often enough this season. When anonymous Tete and ineffectual Harvey Barnes were dropped in the 70th minute, the sight of Jamie Vardy and Patson Daka – willing runners, agents of chaos and moving targets to aim for – must have been a relief.
Maddison completed two tackles and a dribble, setting up a chance with a 72% passing rate before that double substitution. In the next 20 minutes plus injury time, he completed a tackle and a dribble, creating three chances without missing a single pass.
The difference was stark. Leeds had dropped deeper and gradually given more ground to Leicester throughout the second half, but it was only in the last quarter of an hour that the wobbly Illan Meslier he was effectively tested with a shot on target as the visitors chased an equaliser. Kelechi Iheanacho forced the Frenchman into a couple of saves, only for the Foxes forward to make a heroic contribution to the inevitable leveler.
The latest in a long line of Leicester counter-attacks stemming from Leeds forced turnovers landed on the feet of Iheanacho, who slipped inside Maddison despite pulling his groin when he avoided a tackle from Liam Cooper. The final pass to Vardy was as perfect as the ending that followed.
The 36-year-old started the season with a 14-goal lead over Mo Salah, who the Liverpool striker summarily dismantled. But that moved them to 14th in the all-time Premier League table with 136 apiece.
Vardy is unlikely to encounter as lenient a defense as this in his quest to get ahead of Salah yet again. Leeds took a deserved lead through Luis Sinisterra’s excellent header from Jack Harrison’s cross, but squandered it with a passive approach and no real attempt to shift that negative momentum. The first of the two substitutions was enforced – and Crysencio Summerville was brilliant as a first substitute – but Brenden Aaronson alone would never have preserved those three points when more control of midfield was needed.
The American forward and Marc Roca both had late saves from Daniel Iversen before Patrick Bamford’s inexplicable mistake when he went unmarked at the back post following a corner kick, getting his legs into a sort of tangle which underlined how much whether it was an anomaly the 2020/21 season was in his overall career.
It would have been a winner that Leeds failed to justify in the second half, so unambitious and complacent was their display. That only denied a passionate crowd that Maddison did more than anyone to ignite. Shutting him up after his assist and that grin at the thoughtless insult hurled in his general direction just before taking a stoppage-time corner kick that the home side pulled away said more than enough.