Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers refuses to set his sights higher than securing European football

Tom Petrini Leicester City FC

After watching his side win thanks to an impressive alliance of grace and grit, Brendan Rodgers refused to reveal the extent of Leicester’s ambition for 2021 beyond securing European football.

His side would have failed, however, if all they have to show from this season is another spin in the Europa League. For while the manager maintains a modesty when it comes to evaluating their Premier League title chances, his players cannot help but display a flashiness on the pitch.

It was two such moments of showmanship that won an otherwise scrappy contest, moving Leicester into third and within a point of leaders Liverpool. 

James Maddison (pictured) and Youri Tielemens scored as Leicester beat Newcastle

James Maddison (pictured) and Youri Tielemens scored as Leicester beat Newcastle

Maddison fired the ball past Karl Darlow from close range after good work from Jamie Vardy

Maddison fired the ball past Karl Darlow from close range after good work from Jamie Vardy

Midfielder Youri Tielemans then gave the visitors a two-goal advantage with a curling effort

Midfielder Youri Tielemans then gave the visitors a two-goal advantage with a curling effort

MATCH FACTS 

Newcastle (5-3-2): Darlow 6; Yedlin 5.5 (Carroll 79, 7), Fernandez 6, Schar 6, Clark 6, Ritchie 5.5; Almiron 5 (Murphy 65, 5), S. Longstaff 5, M. Longstaff 6; Joelinton 5 (Shelvey 65, 5), Wilson 5.5

Subs: Dubravka, Krafth, Manquillo, Dummett, Hendrick, Gayle

Scorers: Carroll 82

Manager: Steve Bruce 5

Leicester (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel 6.5; Justin 6.5, Fofana 6.5, Evans 7.5, Castagne 6.5; Ndidi 6.5, Tielemans 7.5; Maddison 7 (Soyuncu 79, 6), Albrighton 8, Barnes 7; Vardy 7

Subs: Ward, Amartey, Thomas, Mendy, Praet, Under, Perez, Iheanacho

Scorers: Maddison 55, Tielemans 72

Bookings: Tielemans, Justin

Manager: Brendan Rodgers 7

MOM: Albrighton

Referee: R Jones 6 

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But good players make the difference in ugly matches and Rodgers has some beauties among his number. They are worth more than another Thursday-night trawl around various Eastern Europe outposts next season.

James Maddison and Youri Tielemans were the scorers this time, the latter just about out-doing the former with the quality of the strike, although they were both crackers.

Rodgers, like a proud dad, would not separate them. ‘The two boys were very clinical with their finishes,’ he said.

Maddison had been noticeable in the first half more by way of his bright pink boots than anything he actually did with them.

But 10 minutes into the second half they finally produced something of substance to illuminate a grey day on Tyneside, his thumping finish from 18 yards climaxing an incisive break involving Harvey Barnes and provider Jamie Vardy.

Darts fan Maddison clearly had last night’s World Championship final on his mind as he celebrated with a tribute to the oche.

Tielemans started and finished the move that brought the second on 72 minutes. His effort had power and precision after striding on to Marc Albrighton’s cross to whip just inside the post from the fringe of the penalty area.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce sent on Andy Carroll in response. He immediately unsettled Leicester and scored with a volley just as classy as the Leicester goals. It was his first goal for Newcastle in 10 years and ended his team’s six-hour goal drought.

It also set up a final 10 minutes in which Leicester had doggedly to resist some belated Newcastle ambition, although an equaliser would have felt unjust. The better team won, even if they had made hard work of it at times.

But would Rodgers be drawn into a more detailed analysis of their title prospects? There was more chance of sunshine breaking through the sleet-laden skies. 

‘Our targets have not changed,’ he insisted. ‘Our ambition is to get into Europe again. For us to progress we want to be a team that, year on year, plays European football. We have started very well but we’re only at halfway.’ 

Newcastle striker Andy Carroll's strike on the volley halved the Leicester deficit late on

Newcastle striker Andy Carroll’s strike on the volley halved the Leicester deficit late on

Carroll's late consolation was the Englishman's first Newcastle goal in over ten years

Carroll’s late consolation was the Englishman’s first Newcastle goal in over ten years

One concern for Leicester is their home form. This win marked their 22nd point on the road this season, the highest total in the division. By contrast, only 10 points have come at the King Power Stadium.

Against a Newcastle side showing little attacking intent, this was more akin to a home fixture during the first half, and perhaps that explains why they struggled to break through.

They started well enough and should have been ahead on 10 minutes when Tielemans simply had to roll the ball into the path of Timothy Castagne for a tap-in. But the midfielder’s pass was heavy and the ball ran away for a goal-kick.

Vardy then had a goal ruled out for offside but it felt like warning was being served of an inevitable Leicester goal. It says much that the first half would then expire without them having a shot on target. They saw a lot of the ball but did nothing with it. Passive passing, you could say.   

Jamie Vardy remained a constant threat for Leicester and hit the crossbar in the final minutes

Jamie Vardy remained a constant threat for Leicester and hit the crossbar in the final minutes

The victory at St James' Park saw Leicester climb to third in the Premier League

The victory at St James’ Park saw Leicester climb to third in the Premier League 

Referee Robert Jones, meanwhile, was fortunate to have a Premier League fixture after his performance in Leeds’ win against Burnley last week. He was heavily involved here, too. 

Not because of any controversial decisions but because he kept making inadvertent interceptions. At one stage in the first half he had more touches than Newcastle’s forwards.

The hosts did register the half’s only effort on target but Joelinton’s header was nothing more than catching practice for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. They offered little else and former boss Graeme Souness observed on Sky at the break: ‘It’s got to be a hard watch for a Newcastle fan.’

It was not particularly enjoyable for Leicester fans to that point, either. But come the end there was plenty to smile about, even if Rodgers is keeping his joy concealed for now. 

Relive Sportsmail’s Ieuan Ivett’s live EPL coverage of Newcastle vs Leicester including score, lineups and build-up. 

 

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