Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester beat Watford in a hugely entertaining match to ruin Claudio Ranieri’s return to the King Power Stadium.
Ranieri was in the opponents’ dugout for the first time since guiding the Foxes to the 2015-16 Premier League title and received a great reception from the home fans.
But in a chaotic and thrilling game played in blizzard conditions, his current side played a big part in their own downfall.
There looked to be no danger when Jonny Evans launched a free-kick forward, but William Ekong ducked under the ball and that allowed James Maddison to fire the 16th-minute opener past Daniel Bachmann.
Watford was gifted a chance to equalize in the 30th minute when Wilfred Ndidi clumsily chopped down Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King fired his penalty into the top corner.
But the hosts retook the lead four minutes later as Vardy produced a fine lifted finish following Maddison’s pass and the pair combined again just before half-time with Vardy glancing in a header from Maddison’s corner.
Dennis then dispossessed Timothy Castagne and calmly finished to make it 3-2 in the 61st minute, but the hosts quickly restored their two-goal advantage after Harvey Barnes set up Ademola Lookman for a close-range tap-in.
The victory takes Leicester up from 13th into 10th, while Watford remains 16th, four points above the relegation zone.
Watford’s defensive frailties on display in tough conditions
Leicester’s win was only their fifth of the season from 13 Premier League matches. Manager Brendan Rodgers will have been delighted with his side’s effort in tough, sometimes farcical conditions, in their second game in four days after a 3-1 win over Legia Warsaw on Thursday.
The match began on a clear afternoon, but after 20 minutes the snow came and did not stop for the rest of the encounter.
Burnley’s home clash with Tottenham was postponed earlier on Sunday because of heavy snow at Turf Moor and in the second half at Leicester, the game was paused as ground staff used brooms to clear the snow just to see the lines of the penalty area.
That left seven minutes of injury time, but the game was able to be completed, although Vardy later claimed Bachmann was “trying to get it called off with the ref”.
“You have to stay professional and we did that. Pitches have undersoil heating and we weren’t worried,” added Vardy.
Asked if he feared the game would get called off, Rodgers said: “I was hoping not. The last game I was involved in like that was Swansea away at Ipswich, at Portman Road.
“But the ground staff cleared the areas the referee wanted and the ball was moving fine. The snow lightened off and we were able to see the game through.”
Watford had beaten Manchester United 4-1 last time out – a result that cost United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job. But they looked fragile in defence throughout against the Foxes. Vardy nearly had a first-half hat-trick but was denied by the legs of Bachmann.
Ranieri has now had six games in charge of Watford and lost four of them. His side has not had a clean sheet all season and needs to dramatically improve at the back and do so quickly.
European champions Chelsea visit Vicarage Road on Wednesday and reigning Premier League title holders Manchester City follow on Saturday.
If Watford defends as they did at the King Power Stadium, they could well be on the end of two thrashings.
Reaction to Ranieri ‘warms your heart’, says Rodgers
It will have been an afternoon of mixed emotions for Ranieri as Leicester fans sang songs praising him throughout the match – a tribute to the club’s achievements five years ago when they won the league after being written off as 5,000-1 no-hopers at the start of the campaign.
“The reception was fantastic,” said the 70-year-old Italian. “I want to say thank you to all the Leicester fans, but also the Watford fans as well. They came here on this difficult day and I hope they’re proud of us.
“We fought until the end and tried to do our best. It was Christmas Day conditions but that’s OK. We lost because we made mistakes.”
On the reaction Ranieri received, Rodgers added: “It was brilliant. Big applause to our supporters. It warms your heart when you see that reaction and I’m delighted for him.
“The Leicester City fans gave him a deserving, great ovation.”