Shinji Okazaki’s overhead kick proved decisive as Premier League leaders Leicester City defeated Newcastle United 1-0 in Rafael Benitez’s first game in charge on Monday.
Okazaki’s excellent finish midway through the first half lit up an otherwise quiet affair at the King Power Stadium as Claudio Ranieri’s men re-established a five-point lead over Tottenham at the top of the table.
Leicester have won six of their last eight league games and show no sign of buckling under the pressure, with only eight more matches left to negotiate as their remarkable bid for the title goes on.
Newcastle, who were more steady in defence but lacked an attacking punch, remain 19th in the table and have now suffered defeat in six of their last seven league outings.
After defeat in his debut match, Benitez’s attention immediately turns to a pivotal derby against neighbours and fellow strugglers Sunderland on Sunday, a match that could go a long way to determining the fate of the north-east rivals.
Leicester, meanwhile, are now guaranteed to be top of the pile come the beginning of April and will hope to continue Crystal Palace’s woeful Premier League form at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Benitez, who made two changes in his first selection, saw the visitors make a solid start with Ayoze Perez and Moussa Sissoko both off target with early efforts, but it was unchanged Leicester who took the lead on 25 minutes.
Newcastle did not take two chances to clear their lines from a Riyad Mahrez free-kick and Marc Albrighton’s follow-up cross, allowing Jamie Vardy to head back across the face of goal, with Okazaki’s acrobatic effort doing the rest from just outside the six-yard box.
Albrighton almost doubled the advantage when he collected Vardy’s pass and charged towards goal before curling a shot just wide from the edge of the area.
Benitez brought on Andros Townsend early in the second half and Perez lashed an effort against the side netting, but neither goalkeeper was overly tested throughout the contest.
Siem de Jong and Seydou Doumbia were also introduced, but Newcastle were struggling to make an impression with Leicester content to hold on to their one-goal lead – earned from their only shot on target – and attempt to threaten on the counter-attack.
After latching on to Townsend’s cross, Sissoko had a volley blocked by the arm of Wes Morgan from close range in the final stages, but referee Craig Pawson was unmoved as Benitez’s reign began with a defeat and Leicester kept their title push on course.
Key Opta stats:
– Leicester have won 12 games by a single goal this season, more than any other Premier League team.
– The Foxes have lost just one of their last 18 Premier League games at the King Power Stadium (W12 D5 L1).
– Leicester have scored in 27 Premier League games this season, more than any other team.
– Claudio Ranieri’s team’s last seven PL goals have been scored by seven different players (including one own goal).