The goal that did not count was almost as important as those that did for Aston Villa as they responded to the frenzy over Jacob Ramsey’s disallowed finish on the stroke of half-time to continue their revival under Steven Gerrard.
Ezri Konsa’s first goals in more than a year enabled Villa to win their third game in four under their new manager to move ahead of Leicester City, undone yet again from set-pieces, in the middle of the Premier League table.
As Gerrard got more from his players than his former manager at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, did from his Leicester charges, he could reflect on a combative and tactically astute second half.
Villa dominated the middle of the field and, with Marvelous Nakamba, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn offering protection and drive, they also gained joy from wide areas, with Matty Cash particularly effective attacking from right-back.
The home majority of Villa Park was in uproar when referee Michael Oliver disallowed Ramsey a goal in half-time stoppage time but the official made the right call.
Cash, having also helped make Konsa’s first goal, headed Luiz’s left-footed cross to the far post back into the middle of the six-yard area. Kasper Schmeichel saved and still had one hand on the ball as Ramsey shot into the net.
As Villa’s players celebrated, Oliver was encouraged by the VAR, Paul Tierney, to go to the cameras to check the clash. After he disallowed the goal and Schmeichel took the free-kick, the incident was replayed on the big screen, infuriating Villa supporters all the more who saw that Schmeichel did not have two hands on the ball but had not checked the rules.
Rule 12 of IFAB’s laws of the game states clearly “a goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hand(s).”
Schmeichel and the officials were booed as they came out for the start of the second half with the teams all square and Villa capitalised on this energy.
Both these teams had enjoyed an uplift of late and confidence was not in short supply as they traded goals in the opening stages.
Villa had rallied pluckily in running Manchester City close on Wednesday night while Leicester had extended their good away form as James Maddison scored for third game in a row in drawing 2-2 at Southampton.
Even without James Vardy starting, Leicester looked dangerous on the break throughout the first half. Patson Daka, receiving Maddison’s pass as Leicester countered, did well to battle his way through a combined challenge from both Cash and Nakamba and feed Harvey Barnes. The winger, who scored in Leicester’s win here last season, had time to steady himself and sidefoot his right-footed shot through Konsa’s legs low into the far corner.
Within three minutes Villa equalised. Luiz’s free-kick was unconvincingly cleared by Jonny Evans, inviting Emiliano Buendia to head goalwards though without excessive power. Konsa got the slightest of touches to distract Schmeichel and touch the ball home for his first goal since November of last year.
Maddison went through the gears and, after Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall dived to head wide on his first Premier League start, only a great tackle by Cash prevented Barnes from going through the middle as Leicester threatened to take control.
Villa seemed to use the energy from the disallowed goal to inspire them in the second half and they were much more aggressive and on the front foot, deserving the lead they soon gained.
Konsa headed in at the back post from John McGinn’s corner, the 13th goal Leicester have conceded from set-pieces including penalties this season, and Ollie Watkins came close to making the game safe. First he netted but only after the whistle had blown for his clear foul on Evans and then Schmeichel saved well at his feet as the striker, with Gareth Southgate watching on, ran through on the inside-right channel.
Rodgers introduced Vardy with a quarter of the game remaining but before he had touched the ball, Ramsey should have scored Villa’s third only to lift his shot comically over the bar after being played in by McGinn.
Barnes thought he had equalised when his header seemed set to fly in to the top corner only for Emiliano Martínez to produce a remarkable save, tipping the ball over the bar, to secure Villa’s victory.
Earlier, there had been an emotional moment when play was held up so the players could join in a minute’s applause in memory of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, the six-year-old Birmingham City fan murdered last year.