Fulham’s tenuous grip on a Premier League place loosened further as Jamie Vardy reached a hundred Leicester City goals to hand Brendan Rodgers a first win in charge of the Foxes.
The England international was the difference between the sides at the King Power Stadium, setting up Youri Tielemans for the opening game with the type of unselfish centre forward play that has typified his career before inspiring the hosts to recover from the shock of conceding an equaliser to Floyd Ayite early in the second half. Vardy’s brace saw him capitalise on a shocking ball out from the back by Havard Nortveidt and he brought up his Leicester century with a predatory finish to make sure of the points four minutes from time.
This defeat – which followed the pattern of Fulham’s season away from home – leaves Parker’s side thirteen points from safety and the caretaker head coach wouldn’t have been impressed with the apathetic way in which his charges started. They looked unable to contain a Foxes side that combined the tenacity of Wilfred Ndidi to win the ball back with the flicks and tricks of James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. Further youthful energy was provided by the terrific Tielemens, on loan from Monaco, and it was no surprise when the Belgian international gave the hosts the lead after 21 minutes.
Ndidi stripped Kevin McDonald of possession and played Vardy in on goal. Instead of pulling the trigger, Leicester’s prolific goalscorer squared for Tielemens to tuck home his first goal for the Foxes. Vardy looked much more at home than he had done under Claude Puyel and far more connected to the rest of his team-mates in Rodgers’ fluid 4-3-3 system. Fulham hadn’t had a shot in first half were they looked utterly unable to land a blow on the home side, but Parker’s decision to replace Ryan Sessegnon with Floyd Ayite at half time paid immediate dividends six minutes after the interval.
The substitute did superbly to latch onto a forward pass from Nortdveit and surge away from Ben Chilwell and Harry Maguire before beating Kasper Schmeichel when the angle still seemed against him. Suddenly, the Foxes looked second best as Fulham won more of the 50-50s and began to supply the previously isolated Aleksandar Mitrovic with the service that could allow the Serbian to cause problems. Schmeichel did superbly to get fingertips to his header shortly after Rico had produced an outstanding stop of his own to keep out a curler from Barnes.
But the visitors leaky defence caved in twelve minutes from time. They were the architects of their own downfall as Nordtveit again looked to thread a pass through the Leicester midfield but succeeded in only depositing the ball at the feet of Maddison. The attacking midfielder, who has kicked on from his eye-catching cameos with Norwich in the Championship last season, played in Vardy, who fired home what officially was his 99th goal for Leicester (as the club refuses to recognise a Community Shield strike against Manchester United in 2016). The striker made sure the milestone was reached when he tucked home following fine wing play from Barnes to finally put Fulham out of their misery four minutes from time.
LEICESTER CITY (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Pereira, Evans, Maguire, Chilwell; Tielemans (Ghezzal 72), Ndidi, Gray (Okazaki 72); Maddison (Mendy 81), Barnes, Vardy. Subs (not used): Ward, Morgan, Fuchs, Iheanacho.
GOALS: Tielemans (21), Vardy (78, 86).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Odoi, Bryan, Nordtveit, Ream; McDonald (Vietto 82), Chambers; Babel (Seri 67), R. Sessegnon (Ayite 45), Cairney; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Le Marchand, Christie, Anguissa.
BOOKED: Babel, Bryan.
GOAL: Ayite (51).
REFEREE: David Coote (Northamptonshire).