Okazaki stunner downs Benitez’s Newcastle

Mark Scott
Shinji Okazaki: Linked with move to Milan

Shinji Okazaki’s overhead kick restored Leicester’s five-point lead and ensured Rafa Benitez’s first Newcastle game ended with a 1-0 defeat.

Okazaki opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a sensational overhead finish on the edge of the six-yard box – his first-ever goal at the King Power Stadium.

Marc Albrighton was inches away from doubling the Foxes’ lead just five minutes later in a game which was lacking in goal-scoring opportunities, but Benitez’s Newcastle did ensure Leicester had to work hard for all three points.

The Magpies, still rooted in the relegation zone, threatened to steal a last-gasp equaliser, but Moussa Sissoko saw his thunderous shot blocked and Siem de Jong fluffed his lines with minutes to spare.

They host drop rivals Sunderland on Sunday, in a crucial survival derby, and Benitez must demand more grit from his side.

He made two changes, with Aleksandar Mitrovic replacing Emmanuel Riviere while Vurnon Anita came in for the injured Paul Dummett.

The lack of options would have been alarming to the former Liverpool boss, with minimal switches from the abject 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth which cost Steve McClaren his job.

But there was plenty of fight from the Magpies in the opening exchanges as Ayoze Perez, Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko went close in the first 15 minutes.

There was enough to give Benitez heart but Leicester’s sluggish start was smashed in stunning fashion after 25 minutes.

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 perfect overhead kick from six yards.

It was only the striker’s fifth league goal of the season but crucially settled an unremarkable game which could prove so key to both sides’ seasons.

Benitez retreated to the dugout and Albrighton nearly made it 2-0 two minutes later after a deep run ended with him curling inches wide.

Newcastle did not look like a team without confidence as they tried to probe the Foxes but found little joy from Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.

A lack of creativity let the Magpies down, with Leicester not needed to be at their thrilling best to keep them at bay.

Perez shot straight at Kasper Schmeichel just before the break and Mitrovic struggled to justify Benitez’s faith when his 55th-minute header failed to trouble the keeper.

The Magpies were still content to keep possession, with Leicester happy to let them, as the visitors turned to Andros Townsend in place of Anita.

Perez’s deflected drive whistled wide after 62 minutes but there was surprisingly little urgency from the Magpies as time ticked away and, with the hosts struggling to create themselves, the visitors never took advantage.

That will be a concern for Benitez and he was left frustrated when Mitrovic opted to pass to Siem De Jong rather than shoot with just six minutes left as Newcastle slipped to defeat.