Youri Tielemans scored twice as Leicester City bounced back from their Europa League exit to earn an emphatic Premier League victory over Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium.
Making his first Premier League start since 7 November following a calf injury, Tielemans converted a 38th-minute penalty after Jamaal Lascelles was adjudged to have brought down James Maddison.
A quality attacking move, initiated by Maddison’s sublime pass for Harvey Barnes using the outside of his boot, resulted in a simple finish for Patson Daka as the Foxes moved out of sight in the second half.
After Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel did brilliantly to sprint back and prevent a Timothy Castagne own-goal, Tielemans was set up by Maddison for his second before the England midfielder got the goal his impressive performance deserved with five minutes remaining.
Brendan Rodgers’ side – eliminated from the Europa League group stage with a 3-2 defeat by Napoli on Thursday – move up to eighth in the table after only a second victory in seven league games.
Newcastle, meanwhile, remain in the relegation places and three points from safety.
Maddison stars as Leicester finally earn clean sheet
While there is plenty of time for Rodgers to discover what the Europa Conference League is following their midweek European disappointment, the immediate concern was to address his side’s porous defence after a week in which the Leicester boss was once again left to rue defensive “naivety”.
A squad already depleted by illness was dealt an immediate blow in that regard, as centre-back Jonny Evans was forced off with a hamstring injury six minutes into his 100th Premier League appearance for the club – leaving Wilfred Ndidi to assume the role of makeshift centre-back.
Despite that setback the Foxes registered a first clean sheet in 17 matches in all competitions against a Newcastle side which managed just three shots on target, though Castagne was indebted to Schmeichel’s heroic goal-saving clearance.
In the absence of top scorer Jamie Vardy, rested after playing the full 90 minutes in Naples, it was Maddison who made the difference for the hosts in attack.
Though Newcastle will feel aggrieved over the penalty – awarded after Maddison darted into the box and connected with Lascelles’ outstretched leg – the visitors’ defence was left helpless by slick Leicester play in the second half.
The Foxes, whose aspirations of improving on consecutive fifth-place finishes had begun to fade following an inconsistent start, appeared back to their ruthless best as they produced three quality goals to move within six points of the top four.
Maddison followed up his pivotal role in Daka’s goal by unselfishly teeing up Tielemans for the Belgian’s second, before exchanging passes with Daka to score late on.
Relieved to see the end of their 14-game winless start against fellow bottom-three side Burnley last weekend, a Newcastle side keen to maintain momentum initially harried an uncertain Leicester defence but Miguel Almiron fired into the side netting and the Paraguayan again failed to capitalise after robbing Caglar Soyuncu of possession early on.
That first win appears of even greater significance when placed in the context of the fixtures awaiting Eddie Howe’s side before the end of the year – with matches against Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United to follow this heavy defeat.