Shinji Okazaki’s overhead kick gave leader Leicester a 1-0 victory over Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle on Monday, a goal as spectacular as his team’s improbable Premier League title challenge.
As Leicester restored its five-point lead at the summit over Tottenham with eight games remaining, former Real Madrid and Liverpool coach Benitez made a losing start to his reign as Newcastle manager.
Newcastle is facing relegation, one point from safety, while Leicester is on track for a first-ever league title a year after being bottom of the standings before narrowly avoiding the drop.
“We had to dig in today,” Leicester captain Wes Morgan told British broadcaster Sky Sports. “It wasn’t a pretty game but the most important thing is we came out with the three points.”
Okazaki’s fifth goal of the league campaign came from Leicester’s only shot on target in the 25th minute. Newcastle failed to clear Riyad Mahrez’s free kick and when Marc Albrighton sent the ball back in, Jamie Vardy headed across for Okazaki to execute the acrobatic finish from six yards.
“A special goal and a special moment,” midfielder Danny Drinkwater said. “We got the goal and sat back.”
Leicester, which travels to Crystal Palace on Saturday, has now won 12 games by a one-goal margin this season.
“It wasn’t one of our best performances but we showed a fantastic spirit,” Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri said.
The slender victories mean Leicester can prepare for Champions League football for the first time next season. Leicester has lost only three times in 30 games and is 12 points ahead of fourth-place Manchester City, which has a game in hand.
Newcastle’s next challenge in the relegation fight is a north-east derby on Sunday against fellow struggler Sunderland.
But Benitez believed there were encouraging signs in the loss at the King Power Stadium.
“You could see the commitment and the passion,” said the Spaniard who was fired by Real Madrid in January. (AP)