Riyad Mahrez finds perfect time to deliver for Leicester
West Brom pulled back late on Algerian ends run of home defeats
Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez scores the equalising goal in the Premier League game against West Brom at the King Power Stadium. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Leicester City 1 West Brom 1
Riyad Mahrez repaid the faith of his manager Craig Shakespeare with a late equaliser to deny West Brom victory as Leicester avoided the ignominy of three successive home defeats by the skin of their teeth.
Trailing to Nacer Chadli’s free-kick in the 63rd minute and with his side marooned in the relegation zone, the Leicester manager’s decision to recall the player who did so much to inspire the famous title-winning season was eventually vindicated by a brilliant solo finish 10 minutes from time.
That Shakespeare has now become the first Leicester manager not to record a victory in six Premier League matches since a certain Claudio Ranieri was dismissed will not be welcomed by the Italian’s former assistant with his side still two points from safety, although at least the way they finished this match will give him something to build on.
With only the victory over Brighton back in August to show from their three previous Premier League fixtures here so far this season, the pressure was more on Leicester to emerge with something from this given their lowly position in the table before kick-off.
Shakespeare responded by making three changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Bournemouth before the international break, with Jamie Vardy back after a groin injury and Mahrez restored to the starting line-up despite some indifferent displays since his failed attempt engineer a move away in the summer.
He and his Leicester team-mate Islam Slimani were both dropped for the second of Algeria’s World Cup qualifying defeats last week against Cameroon with Mahrez having transferred his disappointing club form on to the international stage, but here was an opportunity to show why he was voted the best player in the division by his peers just 18 months ago.
The presence of Boaz Myhill in the West Brom goal – making his first league start since the end of Leicester’s title-winning season in place of the injured Ben Foster – would have offered some encouragement for both Mahrez and Vardy on a night when a strong wind swirled around the King Power Stadium.
But West Brom are nothing if not resolute, as typified by their manager, Tony Pulis, who steadfastly stuck with his favoured baseball cap despite the constant threat of losing it at any moment due to the conditions.
Other than a frenetic opening that saw Ahmed Hegazi – fresh from helping Egypt reach their first World Cup finals since being knocked out by England in 1990 – impede Vardy with a variety of limbs which eventually led to a deserved booking from Mike Dean, the hosts carried little threat for the majority of the first half.
A brilliant free-kick from Mahrez that just eluded Kelechi Iheanacho on his full home league debut was the closest they had come to breaking the deadlock until Danny Simpson’s effort from distance in the 35th minute was well saved by Myhill after a corner was only half cleared.
At the other end, Chadli and Jay Rodriguez left Salomón Rondón far too isolated in attack for West Brom to mount any serious threat going forward, although with no win in the league since beating Burnley eight weeks ago, things have not exactly been going to plan for Pulis either.
Given the lack of action, whether there had been any takers for the Shakespeare/Pulis half-and-half scarves on sale before the match was the main topic of discussion at half-time but Vardy ensured there was something to get the home fans off their seats within 30 seconds of the restart.
A sloppy back-pass from Hegazi was seized upon by the England striker and his touch took the ball beyond Myhill before the pair collided just outside the box. After some treatment, the goalkeeper was allowed to continue and could only watch as the resulting free-kick was headed against the outside of his post by Harry Maguire.
A few minutes later, a brilliant back-heel from Vardy played in Marc Albrighton down the left flank and his pull back presented Mahrez with a golden opportunity to score his first goal of the season, only for his shot to sail harmlessly over the crossbar. But just as Leicester seemed to be building some momentum, a sloppy piece of control from Iheanacho on the edge of his own box gifted West Brom a chance to take the lead. The roar that went up as the Nigeria striker attempted to launch a counter-attack following a corner immediately turned to groans as he brought down Grzegorz Krychowiak 30 yards out, with Chadli’s superb curling effort totally deceiving Kasper Schmeichel.
Shakespeare’s response was to switch to a three-man defence as Slimani and Ben Chilwell were introduced from the bench, with the former replacing Iheanacho in one of the most obvious substitutions you will ever see. The change had the desired effect, with Fuchs’s deep cross to the back post headed down by Slimani to Mahrez, who did the rest via a brilliant piece of chest control and a powerful right-foot finish.