Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has admitted Champions League qualification was not even in his thoughts as he embarked upon the new Premier League campaign.

The Magpies secured a top-four finish and a return to the big stage for the first time since the 2002-03 season with a 0-0 draw against Leicester on Monday evening to complete a remarkable turnaround.

They were in severe danger of relegation when Howe took the helm in November 2021 but will now rub shoulders with the continent’s elite next season.

A delighted Howe said: “This wasn’t in our sights at that moment. We had escaped relegation impressively, from the position we were in.

“We were hopeful of improving and staying away from danger and growing the team to a position where maybe we could compete for Europe in a couple of seasons, so we’ve shot ahead of schedule.

“With that comes big challenges for the future, but when you’re in these moments and there’s an opportunity of something like this, you have to take it.”

The club’s Saudi-backed owners have ploughed in excess of £250million in the squad since buying out Mike Ashley, but have received an earlier than anticipated return on their investment.

Newcastle reached the Carabao Cup final in February only to lose to Manchester United at Wembley, but were not to be denied a place at Europe’s top table.

Howe said: “The difficulty is there’s no trophy. It’s an amazing achievement, an amazing thing in terms of where we’ve come from in such a short space of time.

“But it feels difficult to celebrate it like you’ve won a league or something like that. It’s right up there, of course it is. It’s an amazing thing at a very special club.

Asked how he would celebrate, Howe added with a smile: “I don’t know how I’ll celebrate. I’ll wait and see. I hope it’s not with a tea and a biscuit.”

St James’ Park was bouncing at the final whistle and Howe, his staff and players performed a lap of honour, although the mood in the Leicester camp was very different.

The Foxes remain two points adrift of safety, although victory over West Ham on Saturday coupled with a draw for Everton at home to Bournemouth would keep them up on goal difference.

They did not muster a shot until stoppage time, when Magpies goalkeeper Nick Pope kept out Timothy Castagne’s volley to deny them a priceless victory, but boss Dean Smith was defiant over his safety-first approach.

Smith said: “I make no apologies for the way we set up today. We haven’t kept a clean sheet for too long and the reason we are where we are is because of that in my opinion.

“My mind was made up when I watched Newcastle play Brighton on Thursday, one of the best footballing teams in the Premier League this year, Brighton, and in that first 20, 25 minutes, they steamrollered them.

“We had to keep a clean sheet and hope, because we had to make sacrifices with our team sheet today and hope then we were still in the game.

“It almost worked exactly to plan, but the goalkeeper made a really good save in the 90th minute, which was our only shot, I think.

“If it’s too little, too late, who knows? But we’ve taken it to Sunday now.”

Nick Pope ensured Newcastle booked their Champions League place with a game to spare as he denied Leicester a priceless victory in their bid for Premier League survival.

The Magpies’ £10million summer signing kept out Timothy Castagne’s volley in the second minute of stoppage time with his first save of the game to secure a 0-0 draw on a night when the home side battered at the door but were unable to find a way through.

Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron were both denied by the woodwork, but a point was all their team needed to ensure their place among the continent’s big boys for the first time in 20 years.

By contrast, Leicester, who are still two points adrift of safety, will head into their final-day clash with West Ham knowing their fate is not in their own hands.

Eddie Howe’s men were lauded by a crowd of 52,152 on the final whistle, having secured Champions League football for just the third time in the club’s history and way ahead of the schedule drawn up by the club’s Saudi-backed owners when they took control in October 2021.

In some senses it proved to be a frustrating 90 minutes – it might have been more so had key midfielder Bruno Guimaraes seen red rather than yellow for a poor early challenge of Boubakary Soumare – but it was ultimately the bigger picture which mattered.

Howe was forced to make a last-minute change when, after he had taken part in the warm-up, midfielder Joelinton was unable to start and was replaced by Elliot Anderson.

Any fears the reshuffle might unsettle his team proved unfounded as they took the game by the scruff of the neck amid a party atmosphere at St James’ Park, although Guimaraes was perhaps fortunate to escape with only a booking for his studs-up ninth-minute clash with Soumare.

The Magpies dominated possession but in the early stages were unable to find a telling final ball.

Almiron, who had made another high-octane start, fired over after cutting inside from the right and Anderson tested goalkeeper Daniel Iversen for the first time with a curling attempt.

Alexander Isak was seeing plenty of the ball down the left but sliced a long-range effort well wide as the Magpies piled forward repeatedly without ever really being able to summon up the required precision to make the pressure tell.

For their part, City attempted to hit Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho long and early and, although they achieved a measure of success, they met with stubborn resistance from Fabian Schar and Sven Botman.

Wilson twice went close to his 19th goal of the season four minutes before the break when he stabbed a shot against a post and then saw Wilfred Ndidi clear his follow-up header off the line, while Almiron was similarly denied by the woodwork before Isak steered the rebound wide seconds later.

Wilson headed over from a Kieran Trippier corner in stoppage time after Iversen had misjudged the flight and the half ended goalless.

James Maddison entered the fray at the break as a replacement for Iheanacho, but the traffic continued to head very much in the direction of his team’s goal, with Isak and Almiron menacing out wide, although the massed ranks of blue held impressively firm.

Iversen had to turn a 59th-minute Isak snapshot over his crossbar and block Sean Longstaff’s 76th-minute drive with a foot, but it was the Foxes who almost snatched victory at the death when Pope was forced into his first save of the game to keep out Castagne’s stoppage-time volley.

What the papers say

Leicester have reportedly been approached over a potential transfer for Youri Tielemans. According to the Leicester Mercury, citing a report from La Gazetta dello Sport, Roma have made enquiries about the 26-year-old midfielder’s potential availability come the end of the season. Several other clubs, including Paris St Germain and Arsenal, have also shown interest in the out-of-contract Belgian.

Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves is off to the Camp Nou, according to The Sun. Via Spanish outlet Sport, the paper says the 26-year-old has agreed to a four-year deal with Barcelona, with Wolves’ sign off on the deal contingent on getting forward Ansu Fati in return. The 20-year-old is reportedly yet to agree to the move.

The Telegraph reports Nottingham Forest are set to pursue a permanent deal for on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. The 26-year-old is believed to be keen on the idea, but the situation will ultimately be determined by David de Gea‘s future at Old Trafford.

And The Sun says Crystal Palace are keen on making a move for Bournemouth midfielder Jefferson Lerma.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Dusan Vlahovic: Chelsea have made a £70m offer for the Juventus striker, according to ESPN.

Habib Diarra: The Sun reports Wolves and Aston Villa are both in the running to sign the Strasbourg midfielder.

Boss Dean Smith admits Leicester are ‘in the last chance saloon’ in their bid to ensure Premier League survival.

The Foxes go to Newcastle on Monday three points from safety with two games left.

Everton’s 1-1 draw at Wolves on Saturday means the fight for survival will go to the final day, regardless of the result at St James’ Park.

Victory will take the Foxes out of the drop zone and above the Toffees on goal difference and Smith is aware of the magnitude of the game.

“We are pretty much in the last chance saloon with a game against Newcastle,” he said, with the Foxes hosting West Ham on the last day on Sunday.

“Disappointment and frustration are the two words I’d say I’ve seen. But we are running out of games to put that right and the players know that.

“When I came in here for the last eight games, if someone had said to me ‘If you win at home the last game of the season (to survive), would you take it?’ I probably would have.

“Hopefully we can get there but we have to get a performance and a result against Newcastle.

“There are things we’ve looked at, things we’ve done. When there is no pressure on the ball, you don’t push up like we did for the first goal against Liverpool.

“There’s an awful lot we’ve done in the classroom in terms of video analysis and we’ve done some stuff on the pitch as well.

“I’ve always said to the players that mistakes are going to happen, from both teams. People are going to make mistakes and you need a helping hand from your team-mate once you make that mistake.

“We probably haven’t been in the positions to help each other out as much as we would like.”

The Magpies need a point to wrap up Champions League qualification while Leicester know two wins from their final two games will seal survival, barring a huge goal difference swing in Everton’s favour.

Smith added: “It’s just a big game. We know what’s at the end of it. I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s not aware of that so our focus is to go there and put in as good a performance as we can.”

Boss Dean Smith is prepared to rely on Jonny Evans again in Leicester’s desperate last-gasp survival bid.

The defender made his first Premier League start in seven months in Monday’s 3-0 defeat to Liverpool following an injury-hit season.

He could start in Monday’s trip to Newcastle, which Leicester will need to win to survive after Everton drew with Wolves and if Nottingham Forest avoid defeat against Arsenal on Saturday.

Evans was preferred ahead of £15million January signing Harry Souttar and Smith is ready to turn to the former Manchester United man again.

“He is a really big influence and he did alright the other night. There was no gamble from us putting him in,” he said.

“He’d had four weeks training and some 11 v 11 minutes in training as well so we had no doubts about that.

“We’d have been guided by Jonny if he’d had any doubts but he’s a top professional, really good player.

“So, possibly (we would not be in this mess) but I don’t know as I wasn’t here. From what I’ve seen I’d have liked to have him for all eight games.

“All his career he has been in the Premier League. From what I’ve found of him so far, he’s a really affable character but a leader the others will want to follow as well. So in terms of the experience he’s probably been missed.”

Evans, from his time at West Brom, and Jamie Vardy – following the Foxes’ Great Escape in 2015 – have Premier League relegation battle experience in the squad.

Smith also guided Aston Villa to safety in 2020 and believes any knowhow to help them survive is crucial.

He said: “The experience you have in the dressing room you use to the best of your abilities. Shakey (Craig Shakespeare, assistant) was here when Leicester stayed up before so I’m leaning on him, I’ve had the same with Aston Villa.

“All that experience we have to give to the players and help them.”

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe would have no qualms over handing “big-game player” Elliot Anderson the chance to make a name for himself with late-season heroics for a second time.

Twelve months ago, the 20-year-old midfielder ended a hugely successful loan spell at Bristol Rovers in style when he scored the crucial last goal in a 7-0 final-day drubbing of relegated Scunthorpe to edge them to automatic promotion from Sky Bet League Two at Northampton’s expense.

On Monday evening, he could find himself playing a key role as the Magpies attempt to seal Champions League qualification against struggling Leicester, with fellow midfielder Joe Willock nursing a hamstring injury and Sean Longstaff working his way back from a foot problem.

Asked about Anderson’s readiness, head coach Howe said: “No qualms at all. He would have played more this season if it hadn’t been for the form of the players around him, there’s no doubt about that for me.

“The midfield has been performing as a unit very, very well this year. You look at each of the players in that midfield and you’d say they’re up there as our best-performing players, so Elliot, we believe in him, it’s just been the strength of the group.

“I think he showed last year in his loan spell – it was a brilliant experience for him – he showed that he’s a big-game player. When they needed him, Bristol Rovers, he stood up and made the difference and yes, it could be a chance for him to do that again.”

Anderson returned to Tyneside after his spell in Bristol and forced his way into the first-team picture, although he has had to remain patient.

Twenty-one of his 25 appearances to date have come from the bench, and his only Premier League start against Liverpool in February ended after just 24 minutes when he was replaced by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka following Nick Pope’s dismissal.

Howe said: “I’d say he would consider himself a first-team player now, as in a fully-integrated member of the first-team squad. He’s trained consistently throughout the season.

“It’s very difficult for those lads that haven’t played regularly when the team wins consistently and has performed as well as it has to wait for their chance.

“Now, he’s a young player that has been desperate to play, he’s controlled his emotions really well. I do believe he’s added elements to his game and improved certain parts of his game that needed to improve.

“I’d say he’s ready. He’s versatile – he proved that against Brighton. He came on on the right side of midfield. He’s predominantly been used by me as a left-side player and he’s very much capable, so we believe in him.”

Boss Dean Smith insists Leicester are united as they fight for survival.

The Foxes go to Newcastle on Monday two points from safety ahead of the weekend’s Premier League games.

If Everton beat Wolves and Nottingham Forest avoid defeat against Arsenal on Saturday, Leicester will need to win at St James’ Park or they will go down.

But Smith has no doubts over the unity in the dressing room as the Foxes battle on.

He said: “I have seen that. From the moment I came in, when I addressed them, their feedback, what they give.

“They’re not all going to be bosom buddies but that’s not been the case at any club I’ve been at, where the players have all been friends.

“But what you have to be is the best team-mate you can. They’re disappointed because of where they are in the league but they’re united.”

Smith has won one of his six games since replacing Brendan Rodgers last month but Monday’s 3-0 defeat at home to Liverpool – two years to the day since they won the FA Cup – left the Foxes on the brink of the drop.

Defeats to Aston Villa and Bournemouth before Smith arrived damaged their survival hopes in April but the boss feels his players have improved, despite individual errors costing them.

“I don’t think it’s been like the Bournemouth game (a 1-0 defeat). I watched it on TV and it looked like players had lost confidence, lost belief, looked lethargic,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ve had that since I’ve been here. I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen lethargy in performances. I’ve seen players working hard but probably the thing we haven’t erased as much as we’d like is the individual mistakes.”

Dean Smith defended his under-fire Leicester players as they fight for their Premier League lives.

The Foxes go to Newcastle on Monday knowing their top-flight future hangs in the balance as they sit two points from safety with two games left.

If Everton win at Wolves and Nottingham Forest avoid defeat against Arsenal over the weekend Leicester will need to win at St James’ Park or they will go down.

The squad – with one win in their last 14 games – has been accused of lacking fight in their relegation battle but Smith has given them his support.

“I don’t need to pay homage to the players, I’ve inherited a squad and not brought any of them in,” said the boss, who saw the Foxes limply lose 3-0 to Liverpool on Monday.

“I can openly criticise them if I need to, I don’t think I need to and I choose not to because the work ethic I see is there.

“The numbers I get from my performance department prove to me it’s there. The thing which is missing is keeping clean sheets and making fewer mistakes in the defensive third.

“It’s out of our hands because if other teams get the results there’s nothing we can do. We just have to concentrate on Newcastle and get the win.

“If we get the performance we are capable of and minimise mistakes, not a problem.

“We are in a position we don’t want to be in. Our job is to get out of it. Our job hasn’t changed from eight games (when he came in) to two games.

“If you look at it realistically it was going to be tough to get points from Manchester City and Liverpool. Other games we would have expected to get points.”

Kelechi Iheanacho (groin) and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (ankle) are expected to resume training on Saturday after missing the Liverpool defeat while Caglar Soyuncu (hamstring) and Danny Ward (dislocated finger) remain out.

It is a fourth straight Monday game – meaning Leicester will know all the results before they play – but Smith insisted other scorelines will not impact his approach.

He added: “We’re preparing for Newcastle now, I don’t want to suddenly change tactics with what we’ve been working on for four or five days.”

Curtis Jones insisted he never lost faith he would earn a Liverpool revival after coming through a “tough time” to establish himself as a first-team regular.

The 22-year-old midfielder’s quickfire double helped the in-form Reds to a comfortable 3-0 win at relegation-threatened Leicester on Monday.

Jones has now started the Reds’ last nine Premier League games having previously only made two starts all season, with a shin injury sidelining him until mid-October.

He has also scored three goals in his last four appearances – ending an 18-month drought – to help Liverpool in their late Champions League charge with Jurgen Klopp’s side fifth and a point behind the top four.

The England Under-21 international told the club’s official site: “In terms of confidence, I’ve always been the same lad. I’ve always had the belief in myself but it’s been a tough time, I’ve had the injuries and stuff so I’ve not really had a full run of games in the past.

“But I came in against Chelsea and I kept my shirt and I’ve still got the shirt now. I’m enjoying it, I’m being humble and keeping my feet on the ground and I know what it takes, so that’s what I’m doing.

“Being a kid in the academy days I’ve always scored goals and I wouldn’t say I’ve been the star kid but I’ve always been the kid who has jumped up the age groups.

“Then I came around the first team and it was kind of a shock where the whole of the game changes, so I’ve had to make a change to the whole of my game. But I’m adapting well and I think it’s the best run I’ve had for a while.”

Jones struck twice in three first-half minutes against Leicester before Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 25-yard effort added the gloss.

It left Leicester two points from safety with two games left and Jamie Vardy admitted they need to win at Newcastle on Monday and in the final-day visit of West Ham to stand a chance of surviving.

“We’ve got to put it straight to the back of our minds now,” the striker told the club’s official site. “We’ve got to focus on the next two games and we’ve got to pick two wins up. It’ll be tough but we know we’ve got the talent in that dressing room. It needs to click.

“We’ve got two games left and the minimum we can have is two wins just to give ourselves a chance.

“So, we’ll get back on that training pitch, spend all week looking at Newcastle, how we can exploit the weaknesses and how we stop, obviously, their strengths.

“We’ve got to make sure that we put the 90-minute effort in next week to pick up a win.”

Jurgen Klopp vowed Liverpool will maintain the pressure in the race for the Champions League after a routine 3-0 win at Leicester.

Curtis Jones’ quickfire double and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fabulous goal kept their push for the top four alive while plunging the Foxes closer to the drop.

Second-bottom Leicester are two points from Premier League safety with two games left and go to Newcastle next Monday.

Victory means Liverpool have booked European football next season and they sit fifth, a point behind Newcastle and Manchester United, who have both played a game less.

Klopp said: “Our job is to keep the pressure (on Newcastle and Manchester United), but if not this is already better than we could have expected six or seven weeks ago.

“I have no clue what it means to us. Four or five years ago we had Chelsea on our neck and they were winning all the time. I think it was the year we finished fourth and had to go in the qualification.

“We had to win the last game and until the last we had to win, win, win, because behind us they were always winning.

“We made it anyway and that’s what I expect them to do as well, if I am honest.

“But it keeps you on your toes and that’s our job – we have to keep them on their toes and then we will see what happens.

“Six or seven weeks ago I didn’t believe it could happen. What we lacked at the time was consistency.

“The game never became the game it could have been, a real fight, challenges everywhere, because we controlled it in a really convincing way.”

Alisson Becker snuffed out an early chance for Jamie Vardy and Liverpool swiftly took control, with Jones’ double ending the game as a contest before the break.

The midfielder opened the scoring after 33 minutes when he arrived unmarked at the far post to steer in Mohamed Salah’s cross.

Three minutes later he collected another Salah pass to swivel and blast past Daniel Iversen from just inside the box.

Leicester had capitulated and only Iversen’s smart save stopped Cody Gakpo making it 3-0 soon after.

Harvey Barnes tested Alisson early in the second half, but there was little fight from the Foxes and Liverpool ultimately eased to victory.

Alexander-Arnold rubber stamped the points with a stunning 25-yard strike following Salah’s short free-kick with 19 minutes left.

Salah should have made it 4-0 rather than shoot wide after going clean through and Leicester were booed off.

They are teetering on the brink of relegation two years to the day since lifting the FA Cup for the first time.

Boss Dean Smith said: “We are all supporters in here, we all support clubs, and you want to see your club winning. We got beaten by a team who physically overran us when they got a 2-0 lead.

“I wouldn’t question our fight, our attitude, but I understand and we all should hear the supporters. If you are losing 2-0 or 3-0 at home and fighting a relegation battle I understand fans react in certain ways.

“Of course I do (believe they can survive). I don’t like playing Monday nights, I don’t think it’s right. We will certainly know what we will have to do at St James’ Park next week.

“Goals change games. I could throw their goalkeeper 50 balls and they wouldn’t score from one of his big kicks.

“It was a really disappointing goal to give away. For the second, Wilf (Ndidi) has tried to read a pass and they play it to Jones who scores a good goal.

“Our minds get a little frazzled then and we needed to get into half-time without any further pain.”

Curtis Jones’ double pushed Leicester to the brink of relegation as Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 win – two years to the day since the Foxes’ FA Cup triumph.

The midfielder’s first-half brace and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s stunner eased the visitors to victory as the hosts capitulated to leave them staring at the drop.

That it came on the anniversary of their first ever FA Cup win underlined the 2016 Premier League champions’ fall from grace.

Harvey Barnes called it one of the biggest games in the club’s history, but Leicester folded to remain two points from safety with two games left.

The Foxes have sleepwalked into this position. Stricter finances dictated last summer’s quiet transfer window, but the club stood still and have paid the price.

An air of acceptance had begun to descend on the King Power Stadium and, even before the Reds marched in to claim three easy points, the writing appeared on the wall.

For Liverpool, they moved to within a point of Manchester United as their late charge for the top four continued.

A seventh straight win – the most painless by far – kept them on United’s coattails, although they will need to maintain their form and hope their rivals slip up.

There was never any suggestion of a surprise on Monday, though, as Leicester surrendered.

Even prior to kick-off the Foxes had lost Danny Ward, Caglar Soyuncu and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to injury.

That forced Dean Smith to give Jonny Evans a first Premier League start since October, showing the desperation in a dire situation.

Leicester needed a strong start and were bright enough. James Maddison’s arrowed pass and Youri Tielemans’ dummy sent Barnes away, only for Alisson Becker to smother the danger when Jamie Vardy broke through.

Yet their early gusto waned as Liverpool bossed possession before turning on the afterburners as the hosts fell apart.

Alisson’s long clearance found Luis Diaz to nod down for Jordan Henderson. He teed up Mohamed Salah to cross for Jones to steal in ahead of the dawdling Boubakary Soumare and find the far corner for a 33rd-minute opener.

Just three minutes later the England Under-21 international doubled the lead, following a lengthy VAR check, when he collected Salah’s pass and was given the freedom to turn and rifle past Daniel Iversen.

It was the midfielder’s third goals in four games, having ended an 18-month drought against Tottenham last month.

It was mayhem and Leicester, with just one win in their previous 13 games, collapsed as Iversen needed to deny Cody Gakpo a quickfire third.

Desperate for a response, the Foxes at least came out for the second half swinging and Alisson tipped Barnes’ effort wide.

That was as good as it got, though, as Liverpool slipped back into their controlled rhythm, with Iversen beating Salah’s shot away.

It was then curtains with 19 minutes left when, after Evans fouled Henderson, Salah tapped a free-kick to Alexander-Arnold to blast into the top corner from 25 yards.

Salah shot wide when clean through but, by then, the King Power had begun to empty as quickly as the hope drained from Leicester, who look doomed.

Youri Tielemans remains committed to Leicester’s survival fight, according to boss Dean Smith.

The Foxes are two points from safety ahead of Monday’s crucial visit of Liverpool with time running out to save their Premier League skins.

Captain Tielemans is out of contract in the summer with the club having tried for the last two years to convince him to sign a new deal.

The midfielder is expected to leave on a free transfer but Smith dismissed any suggestions he was not dedicated to keeping the Foxes up.

“I’m completely comfortable with his commitment, I’ve seen nothing but a committed player in and around the training ground and on the pitch,” he said.

“You have to remember our first game against Man City he was coming back from an injury having been out five or six weeks but was committed to play that game to get himself up to speed as quick as he could.

“He’s still playing catch-up a little bit but he’s got qualities that we need in the team.

“I’m very good at reading people and as soon as I met Youri you know that football means a lot to him, the same about Cags (Soyuncu) when I looked him in the eyes and it means a lot to him.”

The Foxes were jeered off at the break in their 5-3 defeat at Fulham on Monday, when they trailed 3-0, but Smith insisted all his squad must handle the criticism.

He said: “I heard the fan reaction at half-time and I understood that but I don’t go off that. Football is about opinions and it always has been, somebody’s favourite player will be somebody else’s not favourite player and that’s football.

“Unfortunately, as players, you have to deal with the opinions of people and that’s their job to deal with that.”

Nottingham Forest and Leeds picked up draws against Chelsea and Newcastle respectively while Everton’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City means victory over Liverpool will lift the Foxes out of the bottom three.

“I think they (the players) know the position they’re in and they have done since the moment we came in here,” said Smith. “That’s what we reminded them of and the reason why we’re here, to keep us in the Premier League.

“The players are more than aware of that and I think a perception is always different from what I see day to day on the training ground. What I see day to day are a group of players that care.”

Leicester slipped further into relegation trouble as they endured a woeful 5-3 defeat away to Fulham to end their three-game unbeaten run and inflict damage on their survival hopes.

Starting the game outside of the bottom three on goal difference, Dean Smith’s side were ripped apart in the first half at Craven Cottage as Willian, Carlos Vinicius and Tom Cairney all took advantage of shambolic defending to bury Leicester before the break.

Cairney got his second and his team’s fourth early in the second half before Willian completed a brace of his own, rifling in a fine solo effort.

Harvey Barnes scored two and James Maddison tapped in a penalty to give visiting supporters momentary cheer, but the result was never in doubt. The prospects of their team remaining a Premier League club look slim on the evidence of a defensive display every bit as bad as the scoreline suggested.

Fulham scored with their first chance of the game, though it was more by luck than design. Dennis Praet fouled Antonee Robinson out near the left touchline, and from the resulting free-kick Willian’s cross evaded everybody inside the box before bouncing up into the top corner past Daniel Iversen.

Leicester, sensing the severity of their predicament, rallied. Maddison crossed low for Barnes arriving inside the box but he failed to make sufficient contact to turn it home under pressure. At the other end, Cairney released Harrison Reed who went toe-to-toe with Caglar Soyuncu before the Leicester defender deflected his effort narrowly wide.

Fulham’s second arrived before the 20-minute mark and started with a Leicester mistake. Boubakary Soumare lost his footing and gave away possession in his own half, allowing Harry Wilson to race away upfield. From his pass nobody in blue went with Vinicius, who had the simple task of striding into the box and rolling it low past the exposed goalkeeper.

Bernd Leno saved well from Jamie Vardy as Leicester threatened immediately to half the arrears, but it was Fulham who were well in control, going close to a third after half an hour when Reed fired straight at Iversen from Willian’s cut-back.

Leicester were hanging on and Fulham came again when Robinson fizzed a cross straight across goal that failed to find a touch, before Vinicius headed inches wide as the ball came back in.

It was a momentary reprieve and by half-time Fulham had three and Leicester looked buried. Reed showed good footwork to control the ball and feed Vinicius, who turned well and found Cairney. The Fulham captain took a touch to come inside Soyuncu before bending his shot smoothly into the bottom corner.

Leicester came out for the second half with some attacking urgency, going close when Barnes struck low towards Leno’s bottom corner which drew a fine fingertip save from the Fulham goalkeeper.

Defensively, they remained as disorganised as before the break. Cairney scored his second and Fulham’s fourth after a powerful run by Kenny Tete down the right. It was a cool finish from a deft first touch after he had been picked out by the full-back.

Barnes thumped in a consolation off the underside of the crossbar just before the hour, and the visitors were offered further encouragement when Leno brought down Vardy inside the box and the referee awarded a penalty. The Leicester striker took the kick himself but the goalkeeper redeemed himself with a two-handed save low to his left.

It extinguished whatever faint hope might briefly had been rekindled for the visitors, and minutes later their woeful defensive organisation was exposed yet again. Willian was barely challenged as he picked up the ball, drifted inside a blasted in Fulham’s fifth.

There was time still for Maddison to succeed where Vardy had failed, knocking his penalty past Leno but drawing barely a cheer from the visiting fans. The same was true when Barnes tapped home from Patson Daka’s pass.

It was a brave stab at recovery but Leicester had lacked courage when it mattered. A two-goal margin did not reflect the extent of Fulham’s dominance.

Leicester boss Dean Smith says his players know it is important to avoid relegation in order to protect their legacy at the club.

The majority of the Foxes squad have been involved in one of the club’s most successful periods over the last few years, with an FA Cup success and back-to-back fifth-placed finishes under Brendan Rodgers.

Things have been different this season, with the club firmly embroiled in a relegation fight where they are currently out of the bottom three on goal difference alone ahead of Monday’s visit to Fulham.

Smith, who was parachuted in last month on an SOS mission to keep the Foxes up after Rodgers was sacked, has seen that his players care.

“It is, that’s the important thing I’ve felt from the players,” he said when asked how crucial it was to protect the players’ recent achievements by staying up.

“The care for the club and the need to ensure it remains a Premier League team, not just from us as coaching staff but also from the players, has been really noticeable.

“You can see that in the performances as well.”

Leicester have been hamstrung by poor defensive displays, having not kept a clean sheet in 19 games, going back to the 2-0 win at West Ham in the final game before the World Cup break.

Smith reckons if they can get that right between now and the end of the season, they will stay up.

“If we keep four clean sheets until the end of the season, we’re safe. I fully believe we’ve got players that can score goals, so we would win some of those games,” he said.

Smith brought John Terry with him to the King Power Stadium and says the former England and Chelsea centre-back can play a part in shoring up the defence.

He added: “He is someone they listen to because he based his game on being a good defender first and a good footballer second.

“He gives little tips he had and talks about the ‘what if’ quite a lot.

“As a defender you have to think, ‘What if he does make a mistake’ so you are there to cover him.”

Leicester boss Dean Smith knows that his side’s superior goal difference could be key in the Premier League relegation battle.

The Foxes are level on points with both Nottingham Forest and Leeds going into this weekend’s round of fixtures, but lie in 16th owing to their better record.

In a six-team tussle to stay up, which also includes Southampton, Everton and West Ham, Smith knows how crucial it could be.

“We can only take one game at a time and see where that leaves us, the draw against Everton we would like to have had a win and so would Everton, but it moved us up the table two places such is our goal difference,” Smith said ahead of Monday’s visit to Fulham.

“It probably gives us a head start on the rest of the teams down there. But we have to have a better performance than we did Monday defensively and if we do that we can go and get a result.”

The Foxes are currently on a run of playing on three successive Mondays, which has left Smith, who is on a short-term SOS mission to keep the Foxes up, playing catch-up.

“I am not enjoying the weekends because all I am doing is coaching and watching the results come in,” he said. “I would much rather be playing ourselves and watching other results after that.

“It’s all consuming, but we knew it would be, seven weeks, eight games, but we are really enjoying it and we believe we are getting a response from the players.”

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