Leicester teetered and could have slumped to another disappointing result in a season of stutters. Instead they rallied and took a big step towards the last 16 of the Europa Conference League, in the process ending a five-match winless run.
They were in danger of extending that streak when Vito Hammershøy-Mistrati struck before half-time to cancel out Wilfred Ndidi’s opening goal. But Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka and the excellent Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall then found the net to leave the second leg of this looking like a formality.
As supporters made their way into the stadium they may have paused at the spot outside the north-western corner of the ground where, according to plans released by the club on Thursday, a statue will be erected of the late chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. News of the tribute was warmly welcomed by Leicester fans.
The Europa Conference League, by contrast, does not yet inspire much love – especially around these parts, with Leicester having gone into this season’s European campaign with far higher ambitions than to advance in the continent’s third-tier competition.
Brendan Rodgers made plain his lack of interest in the tournament in the immediate aftermath of Leicester’s elimination from the more vaunted Europa League in December but as this tie drew closer he insisted that he had come to terms with where his team currently are and wanted to win it. With his team already out of the FA Cup and in the bottom half of the Premier League, this represents their only chance of claiming silverware this season and their most likely route back into Europe. “We will give everything we can to do that,” said Rodgers. The Danish Cup winners, playing their first competitive match after a winter break of more than two months, were not expected to prove an insurmountable obstacle.
Ademola Lookman, chosen instead of James Maddison, could have opened the scoring in the second minute but his control let him down when a shot by Barnes ricocheted to him six yards out. Leicester controlled possession early on but a sloppy pass by Kasper Schmeichel in the sixth minute served as a reminder of the defensive problems that have undermined their season so far. One minute later the goalkeeper had to make a save for the first time, holding a long-range shot by Alhaji Kamara.
Then Daka was given two great chances to score. First he flicked a header over from six yards after a sumptuous cross by Youri Tielemans, and then he let the ball run away from him after being put clean through by Dewsbury-Hall, who was also wasteful in the 15th minute when he failed to finish a cross from Lookman.
Ndidi broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute with a goal of nimble construction after a half-cleared corner. He played a one-two in the box with Lookman, who cut the ball back to him from the byline, and then poked the ball past the keeper from eight yards. Leicester did not create a chance to add to that until Dewsbury-Hall was denied by Patrik Carlgren just before half-time. From the ensuing corner the goalkeeper denied Caglar Soyuncu before Daniel Amartey nodded wide from two yards.
If the failure to extend their lead was frustrating, Rodgers was soon annoyed by his side’s all too familiar inability to hold on to a lead. Randers drew level before the break when Tosin Kehinde profited from a slip by the makeshift left-back, Marc Albrighton, and sent in a low cross from the right. The unmarked Hammershøy-Mistrati arrived into the box to guide it past Schmeichel from 10 yards.
Leicester emerged for the second half like a team eager to atone. Within five minutes they were back in front, Lookman and the impressive Dewsbury-Hall tearing open the visiting defense before Barnes spooned the ball into an empty net as Carlgren got stranded off his line.
This time Leicester did not let up. Daka made it 3-1 five minutes later with an instinctive tap-in after a foxy run and shot by Tielemans. As defenders appealed for offside, the striker was presumably grateful that VAR will not be used in this tournament until the final.
Tielemans twinkled again moments later to create a chance for Lookman, whose ferocious shot was beaten away by Carlgren. As the home side’s confidence soared, Daka spun beautifully past his marker and forced another save from the keeper from 20 yards.
Dewsbury-Hall got the goal he deserved when Kelechi Iheanacho won the ball and fed Lookman, who teed up the midfielder for a simple finish from eight yards.