The afternoon at Kletch Community Stadium began with Ivan Toney being greeted with a characteristically exuberant roar. But for all the focus on Toney, it was the other player in that game, named in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad, who proved more influential overall. James Maddison’s skill ensured Leicester left with a point they will enjoy more overall than Brentford.
When he was substituted at the last minute, Maddison was booed by the home fans. With his mischievous nature, Maddison is one footballer who can evoke such reactions; he grinned steadily and was complimented by a grateful Brendon Rogers.
Perhaps Maddison’s penchant for theatrics – he was cautioned in the first half and had regular back-and-forth with the referee as substitute captain with Jonny Evans’ injury – can at times belie what a great footballer he’s become. He has contributed 36 goals or assists since the Premier League began last season; Of the six men above him, Toney stands alone as he does not play for any of the big six clubs.
After Leicester fell behind at the Community Stadium in the first half to a deflected left-footed shot from Mathias Jensen, Maddison brought a sense of control to a slightly chaotic game. He has an instinct to find space, like a moth to find light.
In the 52nd minute, between the opposing defense and midfield, Maddison found another of his prized unguarded pockets and sliced through Brentford’s back line with a perfectly weighted pass. Harvey Barnes then slid the ball past David Raya to score his ninth Premier League goal of the season.
“He’s competitive — that’s what you want,” Rogers said of Maddison. “He sees the game in the game very, very well.
“He’s always ready for that moment and the pass was great, the weight of the pass. A great run from Barnes. We pressed really well at that moment – we regained the ball, we were persistent, we lost bodies.”
The pass continued Maddison’s good record against Brentford. Five years ago, while visiting Brentford’s old ground with Norwich, he scored the only goal of the game from 30 yards; then of course he celebrated in front of the home fans.
That performance will encourage Southgate to allow Maddison to complement his only England appearance of 2019 in the forthcoming Euro qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
But the other man in the England squad had an altogether more difficult day. Toney struggled to keep up with Maddison’s impact just in front of goal – “You have to be aggressive with Ivan,” Rogers explained of his side’s plans, with Harry Souttar and Daniel Amartey impressing as a makeshift pair of centre-backs.
But the afternoon was still a reminder of Toney’s broader qualities. He dropped low to connect with teammates; his presence alone made room for Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa. At times, Toney even drifted down the right flank, notably after Kevin Schade came on, whose potential and initial impact at Brentford was reflected in a first call-up for Germany.
Leicester’s determination in the second half fully earned the tie, ending a run of four straight Premier League defeats. Rogers gave a warning thumbs-up to fans full-time, some of whom brought a banner demanding he be sacked after the 90 minutes. But Brentford’s argument has been less helpful in bolstering her hopes of continuing her push towards a first-ever season in European football. Shandon Baptiste’s late red card for two bookable offenses exacerbated the hosts’ imperfect day.