The start of 2018 didn’t quite go to plan as Town succumbed to a clinical second-half Leicester City performance on New Year’s Day.
Town’s challenge was effectively over in the space of seven minutes as Riyad Mahrez’s volley and Islam Slimani’s break handed the Foxes a lead on which they would never look back on, with Marc Albrighton tucking home in injury-time adding insult to injury.
Noted by the Head Coach as a key factor during the festive period draw to a close, the Town starting eleven witnessed rotation including five changes. Club Captain Tommy Smith, Chris Löwe, Danny Williams and Steve Mounié all graced the immaculate King Power turf from the start, as Florent Hadergjonaj, Scott Malone, Jonathan Hogg and Laurent Depoitre lined-up amongst the substitutes. The final Town change of the day was a special one for Joe Lolley, as the winger – who has appeared as a replacement in the last three outings – took Collin Quaner’s place to make his first ever start in the Premier League.
You would have to go all the way back to October of 1954 to find the last time Huddersfield Town defeated Leicester City away from home in a league competition; the only win in a matter of years in fact arrived during an FA Cup Fourth Round replay in February 2013.
Chris Löwe tested Kasper Schmeichel early doors by unleashing a powerful volley from a passage of play which saw neither side manage to take full control of possession.
Town initiated a sense of offensive pressure which worked to successful extents in the point-takings at Watford and Southampton. Tom Ince and Rajiv van La Parra a particular duo keen to win possession swiftly, denying Claude Puel’s Foxes to build from the back with panache.
Christopher Schindler opened up the game with his usually accomplished defensive work, positioning himself superbly at the far post to head away Marc Albrighton’s deep cross aiming for the tall figure of Algerian striker Islam Slimani.
Slimani and Shinji Okazaki were the players tasked with leading the line for the former Premier League champions in the absence of Jamie Vardy.
After Schindler denied him on the first occasion, Slimani displayed his aerial threat once again by forcing Jonas Lössl into a save at full stretch to tip over the cross-bar from Christian Fuchs’ centre.
Slimani had been the focal point of the home side’s attacks within the initial 10 minutes. This time Algerian compatriot and the silky Riyad Mahrez dropped into a hole between the Town defensive and midfield banks.
A 2016 African Player of the Year, Mahrez explored a ground pass route through Zanka and Schindler in order to find Slimani, who had made a quick dash in-behind.
Jonas Lössl snuffed out the danger efficiently and raced off his line to strike cleanly down the line.
With the ball themselves, Town looked comfortable, and patiently worked in tidy areas; an example of that notion followed suit with Aaron Mooy’s cultured flick to Tommy Smith in the right-hand channel, and the Captain delivered invitingly towards Steve Mounié.
The Benin striker was marshalled well by Wes Morgan, and with no red and black shirt in the vicinity around the back post, Kasper Schmeichel would gratefully accept a dead-ball.
Growing and growing into the contest, Town may well have had the clearest opportunity; Aaron Mooy’s clever lob caught the Leicester defenders static, which allowed Danny Williams to run from deep enabling a clear route on goal.
As the American galloped forward, Harry Maguire impressively made up a substantial amount of ground to recover, which in the end brought about a challenge which needed to be timed with perfection.
Williams tumbled with claims for a penalty. Referee Graham Scott adjudged Maguire’s tackle to be of a fair nature, with play allowed to continue.
Seconds later, Danny would receive another excellent sight of goal 20 yards out, but the resulting shot was placed harmlessly wide.
Proceedings were calm, with both clubs finding clear-cut chances hard to come by as the half-hour mark passed. David Wagner would have been suitably pleased with the manner that his Terriers were going about their work in all aspects on a brisk New Year’s Day.
Wilfred Ndidi squandered a half-decent Leicester chance. After hesitancy when clearing the lines, Ndidi received possession with room on the edge of the penalty area, but as the ball arrived at a quick pace, the attempt at hand continued the theme of inaccuracy by sailing wildly off-target.
As the half’s duration came to its conclusion, the affair was tight; Christopher Schindler producing the most eventful period of play with two crucial interventions, firstly as Slimani sprinted clear, before timely sliding in to block Ndidi’s through ball aiming for the sneaky run of Riyad Mahrez.
Leicester would threaten first within the second period. Austrian left-back Christian Fuchs hit a volley sweetly, but a cluster of ‘flash’ shirts diverted away for a corner.
Following up the early volley was Marc Albrighton, who had switched to the right. Dancing his way to the by-line, the winger crossed towards an isolated Slimani, but the latter made an adequate connection which forced Jonas Lössl to be alert in order to pounce.
Early pressure would eventually force a goal, and what a goal it was. Fuchs’ long throw was dealt with but fell only to Marc Albrighton. The winger would sustain the momentum by hooking to Riyad Mahrez, who had quietly drifted to the far post. The Algerian had lost his markers, and executed a tremendously skilful side-footed volley past a sprawling Lössl into the far corner.
The Foxes were now playing with supremely high confidence, and the lead could well have been extended hadn’t Tommy Smith recovered well to rob Okazaki of possession after the Japanese striker had been sent away by the busy Albrighton’s curved pass directly through the heart.
Where Okazaki failed, Islam Slimani made no mistake. Town had been cut open with assists along the ground multiple times, and in the end the pace with which Leicester countered would pay dividends.
Mahrez turned provider to slot through to Slimani who in turn raced away before chipping expertly over Jonas Lössl. A doubled Leicester lead, and a hugely increased difficulty for the Terriers to possibly avert losing the four-game unbeaten streak.
The Head Coach looked to Collin Quaner in a bid to reduce the arrears; the substitute could only blaze high and wide despite neat build-up play across the park and an intent to put the hosts on the back foot.
In response, Town huffed and puffed, but a firm, resilient Leicester unit kept an impressive solid organisation. Possession in the central areas was all well and good, but despite tireless hard work, the two-goal advantage for the men in blue rarely came under fire.
Okazaki looked to make it three, and as ever so characteristic both throughout the season and this specific encounter, Christopher Schindler stepped in with the vital block to virtually keep in-tact any hopes that the visitors had in terms of leaving Leicestershire with any reward.
Those hopes came within a whisker of being thoroughly quashed, as Wilfred Ndidi crashed a glancing header off the bar from home replacement Demarai Gray’s pacey corner.
The game was over, and Leicester had wrapped up the points by the time the second minute of injury time had come around, but Marc Albrighton capped off his afternoon by sweeping in at the far post to ensure the Foxes made a winning start to the calendar year.
TOWN’S LINE-UP (4-2-3-1):
Jonas Lössl; Chris Löwe (Scott Malone, 76’), Christopher Schindler, Mathias Zanka, Tommy Smith (c) (Laurent Depoitre, 81’); Danny Williams, Aaron Mooy; Joe Lolley (Collin Quaner, 59’), Tom Ince, Rajiv van La Parra; Steve Mounié
Joel Coleman, Martin Cranie, Florent Hadergjonaj, Jonathan Hogg