Leicester’s hopes of sealing top spot in Europa League Group G with a game to spare were dashed by Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk, who grabbed a late winner through substitute Allahyar Sayyadmanesh on a freezing night in Zaporizhzhia.
A win would have been all but enough for the Foxes, but they might now have to defeat AEK Athens in their final match to ensure that top status.
Manager Brendan Rodgers made several changes to the line-up that started in the 2-1 defeat by Fulham, but welcomed back senior players Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu and Wilfred Ndidi following their respective spells on the sidelines.
However, Turkish centre-back Soyuncu’s return lasted only 17 minutes when he suffered a recurrence of his groin injury, later confirmed by the Foxes boss.
Leicester twice came close to scoring in one move 10 minutes from time when Zorya goalkeeper Nikola Vasilj extended himself to block shots from Kelechi Iheanacho and then substitute James Maddison. Vasilj then threw himself to his right to keep out Cengiz Under’s 20-yard strike.
Zorya worked their opponents far harder with keeper Danny Ward, making only his second appearance of the season, pulling off two superb saves to deny Vladislav Kochergin and Andrejs Ciganiks, while Vladlen Yurchenko’s header came off the bar.
With six minutes remaining they finally beat the former Huddersfield player when Sayyadmanesh converted Denis Favorov’s low ball from the right.
“It’s frustrating overall,” Rodgers told BT Sport. “I didn’t think the players deserved to lose that at all.
“As the second half went on, we looked like the only team going to win. The players put so much into it. They were difficult conditions.”
Soyuncu blow as trio return
Rodgers was delighted in the build-up that three senior players, integral to the team finishing fifth last season, were back in the line-up following injuries.
Pereira was given a 45-minute runout after nine months out with a knee problem. The usually cavalier right-back appeared to play within himself in the first half, venturing near or around the opposition box on only two occasions, unlike James Justin on the opposite flank who appeared in that zone five times. However, the 27-year-old did look assured during the half.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Pereira said. “I’m very happy to be back playing with the guys and I hope only good things will happen from here.”
As for Soyuncu, his first experience of first-team football in eight weeks was short-lived. He signalled to the bench he needed to come off after suggesting he had suffered a recurrence of his groin injury. Another lengthy period out for the influential defender will be a huge blow to Rodgers with the busy festive period around the corner.
Asked about the severity of the injury Rodgers said: “We have to wait and see on Friday. It’s a recurrence of the groin injury, he overstretched it.”
Of the trio, Nigerian Ndidi had the longest spell in the Zaporizhzhia cold, as he returned from a two-month lay-off with a groin problem. Sitting in midfield alongside the equally industrious Hamza Choudhury, the 23-year-old was exceptional and early in the match helped Pereira on the right by breaking up a possible Zorya attack.
Leaky Foxes concede again – stats
- Zorya Luhansk enjoyed their first victory against English opposition (W1 D0 L3), courtesy of their first goal against an English side.
- Leicester have registered just two clean sheets in their last 14 away games in all competitions.
- Zorya Luhansk have enjoyed consecutive victories in European competition for the first time since August 2019.
- Leicester are without a win in four games in all competitions (D1 L3) after winning each of their six before that.
- It took Leicester until the 78th minute to direct a shot on target, via an effort from Iheanacho.
Leicester are at Sheffield United in the Premier League on Sunday (14:15 GMT).
- 20Abu Hanna
- 97CiganiksBooked at 32mins
- 27NazarynaBooked at 74mins
- 28GromovSubstituted forPerovicat 90+3′minutes
- 11GladkiySubstituted forSayyadmaneshat 81′minutes
- 21Ricardo PereiraBooked at 42minsSubstituted forThomasat 45′minutes
- 5MorganSubstituted forFuchsat 56′minutes
- 4SöyüncüSubstituted forFofanaat 17′minutesBooked at 87mins
- 26PraetSubstituted forMaddisonat 78′minutes
- 25NdidiSubstituted forMendyat 56′minutesBooked at 58mins
- 14IheanachoBooked at 45mins
Match ends, Zorya Luhansk 1, Leicester City 0.
Second Half ends, Zorya Luhansk 1, Leicester City 0.
Corner, Leicester City. Conceded by Nikola Vasilj.
Attempt saved. Cengiz Ünder (Leicester City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by James Maddison.
Substitution, Zorya Luhansk. Mihailo Perovic replaces Artem Gromov.
Attempt saved. Harvey Barnes (Leicester City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kelechi Iheanacho.
Wesley Fofana (Leicester City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Wesley Fofana (Leicester City).
Artem Gromov (Zorya Luhansk) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Allahyar Sayyadmanesh (Zorya Luhansk) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Andrejs Ciganiks with a cross.
Goal! Zorya Luhansk 1, Leicester City 0. Allahyar Sayyadmanesh (Zorya Luhansk) left footed shot from very close range to the top left corner. Assisted by Denis Favorov.
Attempt missed. James Justin (Leicester City) left footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by James Maddison.
Substitution, Zorya Luhansk. Allahyar Sayyadmanesh replaces Olexandr Gladkiy.
James Maddison (Leicester City) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Olexandr Gladkiy (Zorya Luhansk).
Attempt saved. James Maddison (Leicester City) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Attempt saved. Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Substitution, Leicester City. James Maddison replaces Dennis Praet.
Cengiz Ünder (Leicester City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Olexandr Gladkiy (Zorya Luhansk).