With 15 minutes remaining and the home fans growing restless, Enzo Maresca must have wished he was back posing for pictures with Pep Guardiola after Manchester City’s Treble win, celebratory cigar between his lips.
The new Leicester boss had watched his side fall behind to Kyle McFadzean’s header early in the second half and breathed a sigh of relief as Coventry missed chance after chance to make the game safe.
Because there is no hiding place when you’re in the firing line, Enzo. None of Pep’s reflected glory to bask in when your team defend like a pub veterans’ XI after a heavy night.
But then Leicester’s Premier League quality gave Maresca something to smile about. A glorious cross from substitute Dennis Praet was headed in by Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall I the 75th minute and Maresca punched the air.
And then, seconds after Coventry sub Haji Wright had hit the bar, Dewsbury-Hall struck Leicester’s winner three minutes from full-time. Maresca leapt in the arms of his backroom team and Leicester’s bid to make an immediate return to the Premier League had its winning start.
Leicester City started life back in the Championship with an 2-1 victory over Coventry
Kieran Dewsbury-Hall was the hero as he netted twice late on to secure the three points
It was the perfect beginning to Enzo Maresca’s time in charge after taking over in the summer
Although they were perhaps a bit fortunate after Coventry missed several guilt-edged chances
Yet for all Maresca’s engaging chat about playing philosophies and for all his sub-Guardiola tactical manoeuvres, the one thing all successful managers need is a bit of luck, and Maresca had a huge slice of it here.
James Maddison and Harvey Barnes had departed since relegation for a combined fee of nearly £80million and Maresca will want to invest more than the £30m he has already spent. It felt significant that a number of Leicester’s Premier League campaigners were left on the bench here.
Leicester moved the ball well enough during the opening exchanges but Coventry were one of the best defensive sides in the division last season and their structure held firm. The Sky Blues lost on penalties to Luton in the play-off final and also lost star striker Viktor Gyokeres to Sporting Lisbon over the summer.
The home side had to wait until the half-hour mark for a sight of goal. Moments after Kasey Palmer had wasted a good chance for the visitors, Stephy Mavididi – one of four debutants for the Foxes – put Ben Wilson in a tangle with an inswinging corner.
Callum Doyle, who was on loan at Coventry last season, headed goalwards but Wilson recovered to turn it behind.
Mavididi was his side’s greatest source of danger and shortly before half-time he burst beyond Bobby Thomas – one of two new centre-backs for Coventry – and sent over a low cross that was scrambled clear.
Leicester (3-2-4-1): Hermansen 8; Faes 5, Vestergaard 5, Doyle 5; Pereira 6, Winks 6.5; McAteer 6.5, Ndidi 6 (Praet 62, 7), Dewsbury-Hall 8, Mavididi 7; Vardy 5.5 (Iheanacho 75).
Subs not used: Stolarczyk, Justin, Albrighton, Souttar, Choudhury, Daka, Praet, Castagne.
Scorers: Dewsbury-Hall 75, 87
Booked: Vestergaard, Doyle
Manager: Enzo Maresca 5.5
Coventry (3-4-1-2): Wilson 6; Thomas 7, McFadzean 7, Latibeaudiere 7; Eccles 6.5 (Van Ewijk 71, 6), Hamer 7.5 (Kelly 71, 6), Sheaf 6.5, Dasilva 6; Palmer 6.5; Godden 4, Simms 5 (Wright 71, 6.5).
Subs not used: Collins, Binks, Sakamoto, Bidwell, Howley, Obikwu
Scorers: McFadzean 47
Booked: Sheaf, Palmer
Manager: Mark Robins 7
Referee: Darren Bond 6
The Sky Blues were hoping to bounce back from losing in last season’s play-off final to Luton
They started well and went into the lead when defender Kyle McFadzean headed home
It was a hard-fought and open game between the two teams based in the East Midlands
Yet Coventry had threatened regularly too, with Thomas, Ellis Simms and McFadzean all going close, so it was no real surprise when they moved in front shortly after half-time.
Simms had already missed a glorious chance seconds before McFadzean drifted away from Wilfred Ndidi to head in Gustavo Hamer’s corner at the near post, with Leicester’s new goalkeeper Mads Hermansen glued to his line.
After that, Coventry had the chances to win more than one game. Matt Godden volleyed straight at Hermansen after a fine one-touch move involving Thomas, Hamer and Josh Eccles, and the forward then twice failed when put clean through, first by Hamer and then by Palmer.
By now the home fans were becoming edgy, groaning when Hermansen dwelled on the ball instead of releasing it quickly, and there were boos when he did similarly moments later.
But they were on their feet 15 minutes from time when substitute Dennis Praet’s cross was met with a firm downward header from Dewsbury-Hall. After being second best for so much of the second half, Leicester now sensed victory and Dewsbury-Hall shot just over from 20 yards.
Back came Coventry. On as a substitute, their new £7m striker Haji Wright’s deflected strike was flicked on to the bar by Hermansen and Godden put the rebound wide.
Coventry were made to pay moments later when Mavididi found Dewsbury-Hall in space inside the box and the finish was outstanding. Maresca was out of jail but if his side keep defending like this, he may not be so fortunate next time.
It was a new-look Leicester side with former England man Harry Winks one of four debutants
The Foxes had their Premier League quality to thank for the late turnaround in the game