Leicester City triumphed in a thrilling game at St Andrew’s to move three points clear at the top of the Championship table.
A Stephy Mavididi brace and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s brilliant finish earned City the victory, a second in a row by a 3-2 scoreline and fourth on the trot. It means there’s now daylight between themselves and Ipswich and puts them 13 points ahead of third-placed Leeds.
This time the win came in a hectic, often end-to-end affair. Mavididi and Dewsbury-Hall scored from speedy counters either side of Jordan James’ finish inside the opening 20 minutes, with Mavididi extending City’s lead early in the second period. James pulled one back to set up a nervy finish, but City held out for the points.
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Maresca made just one change for the game, bringing James Justin back into his defence in place of Conor Coady. That meant Patson Daka started up front for the third straight game, despite Kelechi Iheanacho recovering from illness. The Nigerian was only among the substitutes.
That was with no Jamie Vardy, the number nine still out with injury. That didn’t stop Birmingham fans chanting disparagingly about his wife Rebekah inside a minute of the so-called Wagatha derby. City fans responded with less-than-kind chants about Birmingham boss Wayne Rooney.
But really, all of the action was on the pitch in what was a breathless first 25 minutes. It all started with three big Birmingham chances, all from set-pieces. The first was pinball at a free-kick, with Siriki Dembele getting a shot away and Mads Hermansen saving with his feet. From the throw, a Krystian Bielik flick-on forced the Dane to tip over, and then from the corner, James Justin cannoned the ball against his own post.
But in 10 seconds, City went from nearly conceding to scoring as Abdul Fatawu raced up the other end of the pitch in an electric breakaway, laying the ball to Mavididi who brilliantly dinked over John Ruddy and into the net. Perhaps channelling his inner Vardy, he celebrated by sitting on the advertising hoarding near the Birmingham fans, baiting them to come to him. Stewards had to get involved and the winger was booked.
Only four minutes later, Birmingham were level, getting the goal their early endeavour merited. They play some excellent football to work through the thirds and eventually find James, who spun nicely in the box and got himself just enough space away from Jannik Vestergaard to fizz a shot into the bottom corner.
On level terms, Birmingham continued to play the same way though, and that allowed City to score a carbon copy of their first goal to quickly get back in front. Ricardo Pereira won the ball on the edge of the box and sent Fatawu away. This time it was Dewsbury-Hall making the run ahead of him, the midfielder showing great pace to surge between the two centre-backs and the composure of a top-level striker to round Ruddy and finish into the empty net.
While City were ahead, the hectic nature of the game would not have been Maresca’s preference. But after the second goal, they gripped control of the game, looking less vulnerable at the back while still creating chances, Daka and Mavididi both sending good opportunities past the post.
And City didn’t need much time in the second half to put themselves two goals clear and take real command of the game. A poor pass in the middle was picked off, Daka flicked to Dewsbury-Hall, and he found Mavididi. The winger was allowed to cut inside by full-back Emanuel Aiwu, who then got a nick on his shot to deflect it into the far corner.
The chances kept coming for City, with Fatawu, Mavididi, and Daka all putting shots wide from inside the box. They looked likeliest to get the next goal, but then all of a sudden, Birmingham pulled one back. It was James again, a deflected shot wrong-footing Hermansen to find the bottom corner.
The noise levels rose and the pressure was put on for the final 15 minutes, but City were able to see it out, and in fact had the best chance of the last few moments, substitute Cesare Casadei putting a one-on-one wide. Here’s how we scored the players.
Mads Hermansen: He made two fine saves early to stop Birmingham taking the lead, one down low and then an excellent reaction tip over the bar. On the ball, he just had to hoof it at times, but he was generally pretty calm. Helpless for the two goals. 7
Ricardo Pereira: He was one of those who seemed to be caught out by the hectic nature of the game early on, with Bacuna causing him issues. But after that, he was really good, particularly at picking up good positions in midfield to receive forward balls and then progress it even further. He made the tackle to set up the second goal too. 7
Wout Faes: He showed strength in duels and there was one moment of superb dancing feet around three or four challenges in the first half. He was as calm as ever, but sometimes too calm, and didn’t play passes with enough purpose at times. 7
Jannik Vestergaard: His passing under pressure was mostly good early on, even if a few riskier ones didn’t come off. There will be questions as to whether he could have got tighter to James for the first Birmingham goal, and there were a few moments where he was pulled out of position and didn’t have the energy to get back. 6
James Justin: He was being beaten regularly by Dembele in the opening 20 minutes, but then got to grips with him after. He was too clever for him most of the time, playing him offside. 7
Harry Winks: The game was so fast-paced that it passed him by in the early stages, but when City took control, so did he. He was his usual composed self for the rest of the match, and slowed the tempo when it threatened to rise again. 7
Wilfred Ndidi: He was always involved at the top end, it sometimes didn’t come off for him. He linked well with Fatawu most of the time. 6
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall: Brilliant. His goal was of the highest quality, showing a striker’s composure to round Ruddy and finish even while running at full pelt. Then he was always there to surge through the middle and set up countless City chances. 9
Abdul Fatawu: The timing and weight of his two passes for the first two goals was exceptional, and added to an assist tally that deserves to be higher. But after that, he tried to get himself a goal, only to leave his shooting boots at home. 8
Patson Daka: Outside the box, he was good, linking play well at times, and flicking the ball into Dewsbury-Hall’s path to help set up the third. But in the box, his touch or decision-making sometimes let him down, and while he showed good movement to create space for himself, he snatched at all of his chances. 6
Stephy Mavididi: He was absolutely loving it out there and was so dangerous in the first half, terrorising his full-back and scoring with a cute finish. Another goal helped earn City the win, but he was quieter in the second period. 8
Hamza Choudhury: Had a fair amount of defending to do and aerial battles to win as Birmingham pushed after he came on. Stood up well. 6
Tom Cannon: Again, he looked sharp in and around the box and got a couple of snapshots away. But was then left a little isolated. 6
Harry Souttar: Brought on to defend against the high ball, he won a couple of headers, but was not in the right place for every duel. N/A
Cesare Casadei: It was a very good run and touch for his big injury-time chance, but it was a poor finish. N/A
Who was your star man tonight? Let us know in the comments section below.
Olivia Martin is a dedicated sports journalist based in the UK. With a passion for various athletic disciplines, she covers everything from major league championships to local sports events, delivering up-to-the-minute updates and in-depth analysis.