Leicester City took another big step towards completing the most remarkable of footballing fairy tales yesterday with a 2-0 win at strugglers Sunderland, maintaining their seven point lead at the top of the Premier League with just five games to go.
With City playing before second-placed Tottenham hosted Manchester United, Claudio Ranieri’s side extended their lead temporarily to ten points before Spurs dispatched United 3-0 with three quick-fire second half goals.
At the Stadium of Light, though, Leicester City displayed another rugged, professional performance to see off an uninspired Sunderland side, fighting relegation, with a Jamie Vardy brace proving to be the difference between the two sides.
The first half was one of very few chances or excitement in all honesty; a couple of late tackles and penalty appeals, most notably for Shinji Okazaki who was brought down inside the area by DeAndre Yedlin as well as against Robert Huth in the Leicester box after his arm blocked a Sunderland cross. Both appeals were turned down by referee Anthony Taylor as a poor first half concluded goalless.
After the interval, with 66 minutes on the clock, Vardy broke the deadlock with his 20th goal of the season. Danny Drinkwater controlled the ball deep inside his own half, nutmegged Lee Catermole and played a precise long ball over the top of the Sunderland defence for Vardy to chase onto. Reminiscent of his first goal against Arsenal in September, Vardy raced clear down the left channel and curled his shot with expertise past Black Cats’ goalkeeper Vito Mannnone.
City continued to press, whilst Sunderland were desperate to salvage something as time begins to run out on their push for avoiding relegation. Their biggest chance to rescue a point came in the 82nd minute when Patrick Van Aanholt’s shot from the edge of the area fell inviting for substitute Jack Rodwell just six yards out, but the English midfielder blazed over with the goal at his mercy much to the relief of the travelling Blue Army.
Sunderland failed to threaten again as Leicester carved open numerous opportunities in the closing stages with Sunderland pushing forward in an attempt to find an equaliser. Firstly, Drinkwater got in behind and teed up Vardy again, but his low shot was well saved by Mannone, who then denied January signing Daniel Amartey a first goal for Leicester when he saw his tame shot saved from a one-on-one position.
However, in the fifth minute of injury time, Demarai Gray brilliantly controlled Wes Morgan’s clearance near the halfway line and passed on to Vardy, who beat Van Aanholt for pace and power before nicking the ball beyond the onrushing Mannone to give himself an open goal, which he duly tucked the ball into, for his and Leicester’s second, sealing the three points for the visitors.
The result was the Foxes’ fifth consecutive win and also their fifth consecutive clean sheet, meaning that they have now gone 490 minutes without conceding, a stretch that goes back to the 1st March. Leicester are now just three wins away from securing their first top-flight crown, with five matches to go.
They face West Ham and Swansea at the King Power Stadium, before going to Old Trafford, hosting Everton and finally ending their campaign at Ranieri’s old club, Chelsea. Their closest challengers, Tottenham, most make-up a seven point deficit on the Foxes and travel to Stoke next week, before hosting West Brom, visiting Chelsea, hosting Southampton before a final day trip to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle.
Leicester fans have been dreaming all season of winning the league, but is it actually going to become a reality? It is looking more and more likely now…