Leicester had already secured qualification for the next stage of the Europa League but their trip to Ukraine turned into an ordeal, with Caglar Soyuncu’s return from injury lasting 15 minutes and the team’s defensive problems resurfacing when Allahyar Sayyadmanesh struck a late winner for Zorya.
Brendan Rodgers’ side may need to win at home to AEK Athens next week to confirm top spot in Group G and, in theory, a more favourable draw for the knockout round. Although that was the target in Ukraine, the manager spared several first-team regulars from the trip and used the match as an opportunity to reintegrate three key players who had been missing for months.
The return of Soyuncu from the groin injury that had kept him out of action for two months did not last long, with the centre-back pulling up after running to intercept a pass.
“It’s a recurrence of the groin injury, he just overstretched it a little,” said Rodgers. “He felt a twinge, we’ll have to analyse it when we get back.”
Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira enjoyed more fruitful comebacks. Ndidi looked bright before being replaced in the 56th minute. Pereira was naturally short of his spectacular best but put in a steady 45-minute performance on his first appearance after a lay-off of nearly nine months with cruciate ligament damage. “It’s been a long journey for me, I feel very happy to be back,” the full-back said.
Zorya did not make life easy for Leicester. Vladyslav Kochergin and Andrejs Ciganiks forced awkward saves from Danny Ward in the first half.
Leicester grew into the game without showing much creativity. That said, Cengiz Under, the most lively of Leicester’s attackers, should have fired them into the lead on the half hour after being sent clear by Dennis Praet but the winger dabbed the ball wide.
Zorya regrouped during the interval and gave Leicester a serious fright early in the second half, when Vladlen Yurchenko powered a header against the crossbar.
Leicester cranked up the intensity in pursuit of the victory they wanted. Under delivered an ideal free-kick to Wesley Fofana in the 75th minute but the young centre-back bungled his header from close range.
Nikola Vasilj then had to make two excellent saves to deny Kelechi Iheanacho and James Maddison. But Leicester were then punished for nodding off in defence, Sayyadmanesh arriving unmarked at the back post to tap in a low cross by Denys Favorov. Leicester have lost three of their last four games in all competitions.