Dean Smith warned of the ‘damage’ that an immediate return to the Championship would cause Aston Villa after Jamie Vardy’s double for Leicester left them staring relegation in the face.
Smith, who took Villa up last season, looks to be under growing pressure with the club still two points adrift of safety and with Chelsea, Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester United their next four scheduled league opponents.
Vardy needed just three minutes to break a goalscoring duck lasting nearly three months as he scored twice in 16 minutes to seal Leicester’s first league win since January 22 and strengthen their claims for Champions League football next term.
A Pepe Reina howler and doubles from Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy saw off Aston Villa
Vardy capped his return from injury with a clinical double to put Leicester in command
The Englishman struck from the penalty spot just after the hour mark at the King Power
Barnes made it four with five minutes remaining as the youngster grabbed his second goal
The penalty was given after Michael Oliver deemed Tyrone Mings had handled the ball
Monday’s defeat means Villa remain in the drop zone and in big trouble with 10 games left
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE
Leicester (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel 6; Pereira 7.5, Evans 6.5, Soyuncu 6.5, Justin 7; Ndidi 6.5 (Mendy 84), Albrighton 6.5, Praet 7.5 (Tielemans 76), Maddison 7, Barnes 8; Iheanacho 5.5 (Vardy 60, 7.5).
Subs not used: Ward, Morgan, Perez, Fuchs.
Scorers: Barnes 40, 85, Vardy 63 (pen), 79
Booked: Praet, Ndidi, Evans
Manager: Brendan Rodgers 7.5
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Reina 5; Guilbert 5, Engels 5.5, Mings 6, Targett 5; Elmohamady 5 (El Ghazi 64, 6), Douglas Luiz 5.5, Nakamba 6, Hourihane 5.5 (Davis 67, 6), Grealish 5.5; Samatta 5.5.
Subs not used: Nyland, Taylor, Drinkwater, Konsa, Trezeguet.
Manager: Dean Smith 5
Referee: Michael Oliver 6.5
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
The visitors had been competitive until just before half-time, when goalkeeper Pepe Reina’s clanger – racing needlessly out of his goal before missing an attempted clearance – gifted the opening goal to Harvey Barnes, who also added the fourth five minutes from the end.
Smith said: ‘Games are running out. [The players] know damage that would happen not just to the club but themselves if we were relegated so none of them are not trying to win football games.’
By the end, Villa were all over the place, and it is increasingly difficult to see how they drag themselves out of this hole. Leicester restored their eight-point cushion to fifth-placed Manchester United and their fans taunted Villa about imminent relegation.
After spending nearly £140million on players across two transfer windows last summer and in January, there are also questions for sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch – known as ‘Suso’ – to answer. He was the architect of many of those signings following promotion from the Championship last summer.
Vardy taunts Reina after slotting home his penalty in the 63rd minute on Monday night
The hosts lead at half time after Harvey Barnes capitalised on a huge error from Reina
Barnes gave Leicester the lead just before half time after skipping past the onrushing Reina
Barnes’ team-mates swarm to congratulate the youngster after firing his side ahead
The Spanish goalkeeper watches on after gifting the hosts an early advantage on Monday
Immediate relegation would pose complications for Villa, who announced losses of nearly £70million last week for the period ending May 2019 – their owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, hoped promotion would be the start of brighter times.
On Reina’s gaffe, Smith added: ‘Pepe made a mistake. He came out to try to get the ball, he was too late and ended up [doing] Harvey Barnes’ job. We seem to be making a lot of individual errors and that is something we have to stop.’
Remarkably, Smith’s men started brightly, and Conor Hourihane should have marked a rare start with a goal in the sixth minute after Jack Grealish and Matt Targett combined down the left, only for the Irishman to take a fresh air shot when unmarked six yards out.
Mbwana Samatta was similarly wasteful moments later when he slid in at the far post to meet Hourihane’s curling free-kick but made poor contact and the ball trickled wide.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish looks to wriggle away from Leicester City’s Marc Albrighton
Jonny Evans directs a header at goal but Reina is equal to it and smothers the attempt
Having let Leicester off the hook, Villa then nearly gifted them a goal. Bjorn Engels and Reina could not decide how to deal with Ricardo Pereira’s lofted pass from deep, and Engels’ attempted header to the stranded goalkeeper trickled just wide. Reina then redeemed himself by producing a fine save to keep out the unmarked Jonny Evans’ header from James Maddison’s corner.
Another corner from Maddison led to another chance moments later, with Caglar Soyuncu sending his header too high when left alone at the far post.
Though not at their best, Leicester were still making chances. Kelechi Iheanacho headed Pereira’s perfect cross wide from eight yards, and Barnes shot weakly at Reina.
Barnes did not have to wait long to correct his mistake. Marc Albrighton spotted Frederic Guilbert out of position and released Barnes down the left in the 41st minute Reina opted to charge out of goal to meet the winger but fluffed his clearance, allowing Barnes to move inside, steady himself and find the net from the edge of the box. Leicester’s relief was obvious as Vardy led the celebrations along with the other substitutes.
Mbwana Samatta miscues his strike after being found by a wicked Conor Hourihane free kick
With an hour gone, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers sent on Vardy for Iheanacho to exploit the wobbling Villa back four.
Within three minutes, he had broken his drought. Tyrone Mings intercepted Barnes’ cross with his upper arm and after VAR had upheld the penalty call, Vardy rammed the spot-kick down the centre as Reina dived to his left.
The forward appeared to have been upset by something during the build-up to the kick and after converting, he pointed at Reina before later putting his fingers to his lips in a ‘shush’ gesture.
‘It made it a bit easier,’ said Vardy. ‘The keeper said I was going down the middle and I was.’
Vardy made it three when he benefited from more poor defending to beat Reina at his near post with 11 minutes remaining, before Barnes made it four with a close-range finish from Albrighton’s cut-back.
Caglar Soyuncu and Samatta battle for possession in the first half at the King Power Stadium
Leicester star Jamie Vardy started on the bench with Brendan Rodgers resting the striker
Leicester City fans displayed a banner opposing football being played on Monday nights