No one relishes scoring against Sheffield United more than Jamie Vardy, and the boyhood Wednesday fan struck in the closing seconds here to leave Chris Wilder cursing another defeat.
United looked to be on course for a hard-fought point after Oli McBurnie broke his scoring duck in the first half to cancel out a goal by Ayoze Pérez but, after the hosts coughed up possession in midfield with time running low, Vardy raced clear to end Leicester’s four-game winless streak and prolong United’s woe.
United remain rooted too the bottom with one point. No team in the history of English football have survived in the top flight after such a paltry haul from their first 11 matches.
Chris Wider’s anguish was still too raw after the final whistle for him to scavenge for positives. “I’ve got the arseache with people saying [it’s about] the fine lines and this, that and the other,” he said. “We’re a losing team at the moment. I’m the manager of a losing team. If we make the right decisions we get something from the game.
“We turned the ball over too cheaply yet again and didn’t show the quality we need to build momentum in the Premier League. When you go deep into a game like that, you’re looking for a result. If you can’t win it, you can’t lose it. If someone wins it with a piece of brilliance, you can accept that, but their winning goal was really poor from our point of view. We can’t lose in that manner.”
Although the Blades’ quality is up for debate, no one can accuse them of lacking heart. They certainly began in battle mode, with McBurnie and Ollie Burke leading the pressing from the front as if to show that even if they could not score, they could at least buffet their opponents.
Once Leicester adapted to the demands imposed by the hosts, Brendan Rodgers’ team took control with sharp passing and movement. Vardy nearly broke through with his first involvement, peeling away from his marker to collect a shrewd pass by Pérez and lash a ferocious shot against the near post from 15 yards.
That splendid effort spoke of the striker’s confidence. Burke provided a perfect contrast 12 minutes later when, after making a nice run to collect a beautifully weighted pass from McBurnie, he took a poor first touch as he went to dodge the advancing goalkeeper and then lost his footing as he tried to adjust. Kasper Schmeichel did well not to laugh as he picked up the ball untroubled.
Pérez, too, might have been classed as a striker low on confidence but he betrayed no traces of uncertainty after being entrusted with his first league appearance in six weeks. He linked midfield and attack cleverly and finished emphatically when his chance came. That was in the 20th minute, when Marc Albrighton got on the end of a cross from the left by the intrepid James Justin. Max Lowe blocked Albrighton’s shot but it rebounded to Pérez, who swept a half-volley into the net from eight yards, too powerful for Aaron Ramsdale to stop even though the goalkeeper got a hand to it.
A side bereft of hope would have shrivelled up and invited defeat. But Wilder’s men fought back and scored – yes, scored! – only three minutes later. McBurnie, who had taken 19 shots this season without finding the net, showed determination and fine technique to outjump Wesley Fofana to meet John Lundstram’s corner and guide a downward header into the net.
Then Leicester reassertws their class, popping the ball around with skill and zest and forcing United to defend tigerishly. United were relieved to get to the break on level terms after Pérez threaded a pass to James Maddison, whose shot from 15 yards struck the same post that Vardy had hit.
Leicester continued to dominate after the interval, with United defending deep to deprive Vardy of space to exploit. Leicester applied plenty of pressure but could not penetrate.
Ramsdale rescued his defence when Vardy got a rare chance to run on to a pass over the top, the goalkeeper haring out to head clear. But Vardy had the last laugh in the dying moments. John Fleck lost the ball in midfield, Maddison released Vardy, and the striker raced clear to break the Blades’ hearts and then one of their corner flags, cutting it in two with his studs in a sliding celebration.