James Maddison turned in an irresistible display as Leicester City routed rivals Nottingham Forest to move off the bottom of the table and pile the pressure on Steve Cooper. Maddison was the architect as Brendan Rodgers and Leicester recorded their first win of the season to trade places with Forest, who have lost five games in a row for the first time since 2004, conceding 18 goals across their wretched run.
Maddison scored twice and Harvey Barnes and the substitute Patson Daka also got on the scoresheet as Leicester purred. By the end there were Oles as the home supporters crowed about the ease of victory. It felt significant that the Forest fans present gave Cooper their unadulterated backing, loudly singing his name with 20 minutes to play but whether owner Evangelos Marinakis still holds a manager who led them back to the Premier League after 23 years away in the same esteem remains to be seen.
There was no masking the magnitude of the occasion for both teams, or indeed both managers. Rodgers acknowledged the heat was on but insisted his players would thrive in what proved an electric atmosphere. Before kick-off Leicester’s supporters unfurled a giant tifo that depicted Wes Morgan lifting the Premier League title in 2016, seconds after the home support relived that iconic moment courtesy of a moving prematch montage on the big screens.
Leicester cannot begin to think about trophies anytime soon but with 35 minutes on the clock the mood was akin to that unparalleled season after Maddison curled home Leicester’s third goal with a superb free-kick. Jamie Vardy was enjoying himself, sticking his tongue out as Leicester hunted a fourth. By that point a huddle Forest players had started an inquest of their own as Leicester celebrated, remonstrating with one another about the alarming capitulation.
The hosts began with gusto and, after surviving a series of early Forest corners, they set about hurting their East Midlands rivals. And how they did. Half of the stadium assumed Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall had scored when he headed wide on five minutes after Maddison twice wrung Renan Lodi inside-out and scooped a cross towards the back post and Vardy, restored to the starting lineup in Leicester’s only change, headed wide unmarked from a clever free-kick routine and snatched at another chance when through on goal. Leicester, who last month hired a specialist set-piece coach, seemed determined to show off their homework and Vardy almost latched on to another free-kick.
Forest actually should have taken the lead on 22 minutes but Taiwo Awoniyi clipped a post after being freed through on Danny Ward’s goal by Morgan Gibbs-White and three minutes later Dean Henderson was fishing the ball out of the Forest net. Jesse Lingard’s poor clearance dropped kindly for Maddison to take a touch and then curl an effort at goal, which deflected in via Scott McKenna. Maddison had made the pitch his playground and less than two minutes later he helped Leicester double their advantage with a flighted diagonal pass in search of Vardy from inside his own half. Vardy located Barnes, who cut inside the struggling Neco Williams and emphatically blasted the ball into the far corner.
Maddison was grooving – a nonchalant touch infield to Youri Tielemans from the edge of the pitch exuded confidence – and this stadium was rocking. Barnes’s strike got the seal of approval from the Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who applauded in the directors’ box. Forest were painfully open and Cheikhou Kouyaté, one of three Forest changes, tripped Dewsbury-Hall to present Maddison with an inviting free-kick 20 yards out. Maddison stepped up and bent the ball around the Forest wall and into the net, kissing a post in the process. Cooper, head bowed, trudged back towards his seat in the away dugout. Some Forest fans headed for the exits.
Cooper decided to match-up Leicester by adopting a similar 4-2-3-1 shape but his plan was in tatters by the break, at which point he hooked Kouyaté, Lewis O’Brien and Williams, with the latter replaced by Serge Aurier for his Forest debut. Leicester were invigorated by a front-foot, expressive performance but supporters had to stomach the odd hairy moment. Timothy Castagne and Ward were fortunate a mix-up before the interval did not prove costly and seven minutes into the second half Ward’s hesitation almost handed Forest a route back into the game. McKenna’s long ball upfield released Awoniyi and Ward dallied as he debated whether to rush out of goal. Eventually Ward decided to confront the Forest striker but Awoniyi could not beat the Leicester goalkeeper and Brennan Johnson, for once, was too slow to tuck in the rebound.
The visiting supporters, in a pocket of this stadium, continued to get behind their team but after Daka neatly flicked in Maddison’s cross to score Leicester’s fourth on 73 minutes there was only one set of fans enjoying themselves at the final whistle. “Forest get battered everywhere they go,” Leicester’s fans sang on repeat.