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Soccer: Perez fires fires Leicester to win at injury-hit Newcastle

(Reuters) - Leicester City striker Ayoze Perez came back to haunt his former team Newcastle United on Wednesday with a goal and an assist for midfielder James Maddison, as the Foxes eased to a 3-0 victory and cut the gap to runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Newcastle United v Leicester City - St James' Park, Newcastle, Britain - January 1, 2020 Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates after the match REUTERS/Scott Heppell

The win meant that Brendan Rodgers’ second-placed side have 45 points from 21 matches, 10 points behind Liverpool who have two games in hand and host Sheffield United on Thursday.

Newcastle played almost the entire second half with 10 men after a bizarre string of injuries.

Jetro Willems and Javier Manquillo were both forced off at the end of the first half, Jonjo Shelvey was substituted at halftime and then Fabian Schar lasted only a few minutes of the second half.

“I’ve been involved in the game for 40 years but I’ve not seen anything like that,” manager Steve Bruce, who called the demands of the Christmas schedule ‘ludicrous’ said.

“We lost four players in 20 minutes and gifted them two goals. You get injuries by forcing players to play tired. That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.”

Leicester made light of Jamie Vardy’s absence due to a calf injury as Perez pounced on a poor pass across the back line from Newcastle defender Florian Lejeune and rode a tackle from Fabian Schar before slotting past Martin Dubravka in the 36th minute.

Lejeune was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons again as his poor clearance found its way to Perez who fed Maddison, and the England international blasted in a left-footed shot from distance three minutes later.

The double blow came shortly after Newcastle had missed the chance to take the lead through Brazilian forward Joelinton.

Heroics from Dubravka denied Leicester from scoring on the hour mark, as the goalkeeper first saved a fierce shot from striker Kelechi Iheanacho before keeping out Perez’s follow-up effort from the right.

Leicester made it 3-0 in the 87th through Hamza Choudhury who curled in from outside the penalty area for his first senior goal.

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said he had not wanted to take any chances with Vardy, who also missed the win against West Ham United on Saturday after he became a father again.

“There’s no way on this earth that you can ask players to play at the intensity we want without making a lot of changes. We made changes at West Ham (United) and again today,” he said.

“Jamie Vardy has a tight calf, he’s being treated and I didn’t want to take any risks.”

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge