With regular attackers, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes injured, Leicester City Manager, Brendan Rodgers had little choice than to entrust Kelechi Iheanacho with rare regular starts and the Nigerian did not disappoint. As the Foxes push for a top-four slot in the Premier League, the Nigerian striker has scored in every of his last three games as a starter- his last, a hat-trick, his first since arriving England
Scoring in three straight games for Leicester City and crowning it with a hat-trick, his first since his arrival in England, Kelechi Iheanacho has never had it so good in English football considering that it was also his first goal at the King Power Stadium since July 2020. His six goals so far in the Premier League this season is one shy his tally last season; only two behind his best haul-eight in 2015/16.
After Iheanacho’s treble helped Leicester City to their biggest win of the campaign against Sheffield United last Sunday, he told Sky Sports: “I’m going to use this opportunity to dedicate this hat-trick to all of the mothers in the world, the ones taking care of us. I wish them all a happy Mother’s Day.”
Iheanacho’s message is perhaps more emotional given his own mum died when he was just 16.
Mercy, a teacher, died aged 43 after a brief illness. Later that year, 2013, Iheanacho was named Player of the Tournament as Nigeria won the U-17s World Cup, his performances catching the eyes of Manchester City.
Since arriving in the Premier League, he has honoured his mum’s memory by pointing to the skies when he scores, the 24-year-old appearing close to tears when he scored the goal that sealed his first league hat-trick on Sunday.
“The reason I point to heaven is because I think there is a God in heaven and also it’s for my mum, I know she’s watching when I score,” he said. “So I want to show my appreciation for God and for my late mum.”
He added: “It’s a really great day for me, my family and my team-mates. I’m delighted. I’m thankful for my team-mates and the manager for helping me to get to this level, and for Jamie Vardy, he has helped me a lot.
“I have been waiting for this day to come, it’s my first hat-trick in the Premier League, and I’m delighted. Hopefully there are many more to come in the future.”
“That’s what happens when three strikers play in the same game,” Iheanacho said, adding “It was on for us today.”
“It wasn’t really coming in the first half, we got a few chances and then got the goal, but in the second half it opened up for us and we were all over them, we pressed them, we got the ball, and we put the ball in the net, so it was a really lovely Sunday for us.”
“I thank my team-mates, the gaffer, all the Leicester City staff, the owners for giving me the opportunity, and my team-mates for helping me keep going and get to this level. I’m really happy and delighted.”
Now on 10 goals in all competitions in 2020/21, five of which have come in the last three games, the former Manchester City striker is keen to build on his excellent form for Leicester.
“Hopefully, I will get more – more goals and more hat-tricks,” he explained. “I need to concentrate now on the performances.
“That’s the most important thing, improving myself in training, and improving in the things I don’t do better, so improving in all aspects, in all areas, in training, to improve game by game and hopefully they will keep coming and hopefully we’ll get to the top.”
After footage emerged on social media of his team-mates’ delighted response to his hat-trick, Iheanacho also pointed to the spirit which exists within the Leicester City camp this term.
“I think they are all happy for me,” he said. “Everyone is all emotional today; I saw they were happy for me. I scored a hat-trick today so they’re really happy for me. We’re like a family in there, so I’m really happy I’ve got these lovely guys as my team-mates.
“I’m really happy here. I wish everyone the best and hopefully we’ll get to the top together.”
Iheanacho has been a beneficiary of the switch; coming on trumps in what many felt could see the East Midlands side throw away a top four spot in a similar fashion to how last year panned out.
The Foxes had dropped points in four of their seven games before the Nigerian’s form kicked off, and even that 1-1 draw at Burnley meant the 2016 champions had secured only three wins in eight fixtures. That period occurred simultaneously with their Europa League exit, leading to fears 2020/21 could peter out just as last year did.
With a resurgent Chelsea, plucky West Ham United and inconsistent Liverpool all chasing, picking up maximum points in the last two games has put some daylight between Rodgers’ troops and the sides threatening to supplant them in the final nine games.
Owing to a testing run of games in the final stretch against champions-elect Man City, West Ham, Manchester United, the Blues and Tottenham Hotspur, the current five-point advantage over Thomas Tuchel’s side, eight and 10 respectively over the Hammers and Jurgen Klopp’s team gives them a little leeway.
Iheanacho’s productivity in a two-man attack has contributed to the healthy lead they hold on those sides and is a stark change to the mood around December when an unimpressive showing at Crystal Palace convinced many to believe he couldn’t fill in for Vardy.
Initially expected to be a Sergio Aguero replacement in Manchester, the former teenage prodigy was then pigeonholed as the Englishman’s understudy.
As a result, he was seldom played consistently in tandem with either for a consistent period and given a chance to thrive in a role he prospered in as a youngster.
Rodgers was delighted with the 24-year-old, who’s been involved in 51 goals (37 goals, 14 assists) in 76 starts in all competitions for City and Leicester combined since his move to England, lauding his impact against the Blades.
“Iheanacho was outstanding, not just in his goals, but his overall work-rate,” Rodgers told the club website after the 5-0 win. “He had a big responsibility today, in terms of dropping into space, finding that pocket that was just on the back of the midfield, and I thought he did that very, very well.
“He’s a great guy. He deserved the three goals. He had one or two other opportunities, but we’re all delighted for him.”
Now, Rodgers will hope the in-form Nigerian helps the side over the line as they aim to play among Europe’s hallowed sides for only the second time in their history.