Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers believes Kelechi Iheanacho is finally proving his worth after netting the equaliser against Aston Villa.
Since arriving from Manchester City in the summer of 2017 in a £25million deal, the striker has failed to justify his price-tag and has been the subject of criticism from some quarters.
However, this season Iheanacho has six goals in eight appearances, the latest of which came on Wednesday night after he stepped off the bench to earn Leicester a 1-1 draw in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg.
It was the 23-year-old’s third goal in the competition and Rodgers is pleased to see Iheanacho reaping the reward for his hard work.
“He’s a big talent,” Rodgers said. “He didn’t play a lot of football at Manchester City and it takes a bit of time to adapt.
“But since I’ve come in his confidence has grown and grown and we believe in him and believe in his talent and this season he has really come to the fore.
“He works so hard every day. He’s either making a goal or scoring a goal now and he works so hard in his pressing game. He was a threat when he came on tonight and I’m delighted for him.
“It was a great finish. He’s been so important for us. You see his confidence all the time whether he starts or comes into the game, and that’s the beauty of him now – he is making an impact in games.”
Iheanacho’s second-half goal cancelled out Frederic Guilbert’s 28th-minute opener and left the second leg at Villa Park on January 28 delicately poised.
Rodgers said: “Their goalkeeper made some great saves, Tyrone Mings made some very good blocks but we eventually got the goal – which is what we deserved.
“It is perfectly set up for the second leg and we have the confidence of going there and playing well before so we look forward to it.”
Leicester resoundingly won 4-1 at Villa Park in the Premier League in December and boss Dean Smith was encouraged by how his team had learned from that heavy loss.
“We can take a lot of confidence and belief from the performance and to leave here unbeaten,” said Smith.
“I think everyone knows how well Leicester have been playing and the quality they have got and they put us under a lot of pressure.
“We had to learn lessons after the goals we gave away at Villa Park, where we were poor. They counter-attacked us very easily and we never got to grips with that and we learned the lessons very well because I thought it was a real solid defensive performance.
“We relied on some blocks and some good saves from Orjan (Nyland) and all in all it was a really good defensive performance and that is testament to the players.”
Nyland made a couple of good saves to deny Jamie Vardy in the first half before thwarting James Maddison late on as Leicester pushed for a winning goal.
Smith said: “He is a good goalkeeper. He snapped his Achilles when he was playing really well in the Championship and he has had to be patient and work his way back.
“He made some really good saves when he was called up on. It was a really mature performance, but let’s not forget that he is an international goalkeeper.”