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Rodgers hopeful Covid furore will spark revival at misfiring Leicester after ‘lowest moment’ of his tenure

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers: "The importance of Sunday’s game is clear and we don’t need to shine a torch on it anymore." Photo: Reuters

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers: "The importance of Sunday’s game is clear and we don’t need to shine a torch on it anymore." Photo: Reuters

John Percy

Brendan Rodgers insists the Covid breach by three of his players was the “lowest moment” of his managerial reign at Leicester City, but that it can spark the club’s season back into life.

Preparations for the club’s first FA Cup semi-final appearance in nearly 40 years have been damaged by James Maddison, Ayoze Perez and Hamza Choudhury breaking lockdown rules by attending a party this month.

The trio were axed from last weekend’s match at West Ham and apologised to Rodgers and the Leicester squad in talks on Wednesday. They are in contention for the match against Southampton at Wembley tomorrow.

It is understood that Wes Morgan, the long-serving defender who is injured, was also at the party held by Perez, but will retain the club captaincy.

Yet, while Rodgers has revealed his bitter disappointment at the behaviour of the players involved, he is convinced the furore could have a galvanising effect on his squad after two defeats in a row.

“Certainly, in my time here it was the lowest I’ve felt for a few days after I found out,” Rodgers said. “It was an awful week, but once the fog clears and you get refocused and speak to the guys you look to move forward. You deal with it and don’t dwell on it, because if you do that it can hurt you. We had a meeting and the guys were sincere.

“Not only did they know they had made a mistake, they also understood we are an organisation and that the team is based on our pride and also on behavioural expectation and they fell below that.

“We accept their apology and there is a real good energy back in the squad again. I think this will galvanise us and I’d be very hopeful that between now and the end of the season it will provide that little bit of extra spirit in our squad.”

Leicester are determined to draw a line under the incident but the timing of the breach could have severe repercussions for Maddison in particular, with his hopes of appearing for England at this summer’s European Championship now almost certainly over.

Maddison was pictured in a casino in October 2019, after withdrawing from international duty due to illness, and while Rodgers defended the £25 million (€28 million) signing on that occasion, he has now warned him that he cannot afford to make another costly mistake, saying: “There’s been a certain spotlight on James because he’s a huge talent and he now knows that, clearly, you have to behave in a certain way.

“He made a wrong choice and hopefully he’ll make a better one next time. He was very remorseful. I’ve always said I loved working for him, he’s a young player who has made a mistake and he was man enough to hold his hand up, he was not hiding from it.

“He was bitterly disappointed in himself and bitterly disappointed he had let his team-mates down. There’s a lot of focus on James but he wasn’t the only one who stepped out of line.”

Rodgers is now fully focused on tomorrow’s clash with Southampton, as Leicester aim to reach their first final since 1969. He is acutely aware that the club have never won the competition, losing four finals.

The Antrim man also has his own memories of Wembley, after guiding Swansea to promotion in the Championship play-off final in 2011, but also suffering a surprise defeat in the 2015 FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa while in charge of Liverpool.

“You’re going to have to fail before you succeed sometimes and it is all part of the journey,” he said.

“The importance of Sunday’s game is clear and we don’t need to shine a torch on it anymore. We want to arrive in the final, absolutely, but the only way we can do that is by performing well.

“If you overthink it, or get too nervous, it can immobilise you as a player. You stay calm, give clarity to the team and then arrive and look to play your game. We can’t control what Southampton bring but we can control what we do.

“We lost a semi-final last season [to Villa in the Carabao Cup] and the players know how that feels. You have to see that as a learning experience in order to succeed.”

Leicester City v Southampton, Live, BT Sport 1, 6.30 t omorrow

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