A storm hit Leicester moments before kick-off on Saturday, but it was a different force that Middlesbrough were unable to cope with at the King Power Stadium.
Seconds before the players emerged from the tunnel, torrential downpours descended on the stadium, while gale force winds and thunder and lightning set up for an interesting first half in the Midlands.
The winds were strong enough to blow several advertising hoardings onto the pitch, but even when the sun came out in the second half it didn’t shine on the Teessiders, whose six game unbeaten run ended up being washed away by an impressive Leicester City side.
Nigel Pearson’s men look destined for the Premier League next season and they didn’t let the atrocious first-half conditions spoil their push for promotion with goals from Jamie Vardy and Ritchie De Laet extending their lead at the top of the Championship to eight points.
Boro tasted defeat for the first time since mid-December, but a second half collapse helped the Foxes ease to victory even though Boro had more than matched their table-topping opponents for 53 minutes.
After the downpours had subsided during the early exchanges, Aitor Karanka’s men settled into the game better than their hosts.
They passed the ball around well despite copious amounts of surface water affecting the run of the ball and they carried on their encouraging defensive form by keeping Leicester’s deadly duo of Vardy and David Nugent quiet.
But a dubious opening goal soon after the interval knocked the stuffing out of Karanka’s men and Leicester were able to capitalise from their opponents’ loss of focus.
Boro had a right to feel hard done by when Vardy swept home the opening goal as replays showed the ball had clearly gone out of play after Nugent had caught Ayala trying to watch the ball out for a goal kick.
Ayala started having made his loan move from Norwich City permanent on Friday, but the Spanish defender was in no mood to celebrate having been involved in both Leicester’s goals.
He had reason to be frustrated for the first, but not for the second after he conceded a needless free-kick out wide that De Laet would eventually head in thanks to some slack marking in the box.
“It’s frustrating that the referee didn’t give us a goal kick, because it was clear,” Ayala said. “The ball had gone out, but sometimes these things happen and you have to move on and go to the next game.
“It’s so frustrating and I don’t think the referee was at his best in this game. Everything went for Leicester. I thought it wasn’t a free-kick either. If it had been the other way he probably wouldn’t have given it so it is frustrating but sometimes this is life and these things can happen.
“They weren’t creating any chances and we were defending really well up until the goal. It’s frustrating that we didn’t take our chance, but even in the second half they didn’t create that many chances.
“Two mistakes from the referee changed the game. We have to look forward. When you look back it is disappointing with decisions not going our way but we have to move on. We can’t let this undo all the good work we have done recently.”
The high point for Boro came before the Foxes’ second when Shay Given made a brilliant save to deny David Nugent’s penalty after Rhys Williams had needlessly fouled Vardy, but that was a good as it got.
Leicester’s Ritchie De Laet, second right, scores his side’s second goal
Lukas Jutkiewicz was guilty of missing chance at the beginning of either half when it was goalless, but they were the only two real opportunities Boro created all afternoon.
Although the first half was an even affair, the Foxes possessed a cutting edge when they got forward and their ability to go up a gear when it mattered showed why they have moved into pole position to win the Championship title.
The result serves as a reminder that Boro are still some way off challenging at the very top, they have made progress under Karanka in recent weeks and are still only five points behind Reading in sixth.
The Boro boss remains keen to strengthen his squad further this month after the arrivals of Kenneth Omerou and Nathanial Chalobah on loan from Chelsea, but whether there are any new faces before tomorrow night’s game against Wigan Athletic at the Riverside.
Ayala said: “It was frustrating today. I didn’t have the game I wanted, but I just want to play football. Middlesbrough have given me the opportunity to do that and I wanted to thank them in this game, so it’s not the best day to celebrate but we will move on and better days will come.
“It’s always disappointing to concede goals and especially when we have been defending well of late. Hopefully we can bounce back against Wigan. We need to move on quickly and forget about this game.
“In the Championship there is a lot of games in quick succession and the game against Wigan gives us a good chance of maybe starting another good run where we don’t lose for a few games.
“I hope I can get back into the Premier League with Middlesbrough. That is in everyone’s mind and hopefully we can achieve it. I think we are doing quite well but we just have to take each game as it comes.”