Late Ulloa leveller earns Leicester point as Vardy sees red
Published 17/04/2016 | 15:51
Leicester showed impressive character, quality and resilience to recover from Jamie Vardy's sending-off and a West Ham comeback to eke out what could prove a crucial point in the race for the Premier League title.
Claudio Ranieri's men were supposed to be relegation fodder and odds of 5,000/1 underlined just how unlikely a title tilt looked to be, yet this has been one of the most incredible seasons in English football history.
The King Power Stadium faithful went through the whole gamut of emotions after goalscorer Vardy's controversial dismissal paved the way for West Ham to go ahead through Andy Carroll's spot-kick and a wonderful Aaron Cresswell strike.
But Leonardo Ulloa's stoppage-time penalty secured the Foxes a 2-2 draw.
The draw stretches Leicester's lead over second-placed Tottenham to eight points, but Mauricio Pochettino's men can cut the gap at Stoke on Monday as an amazing campaign heads towards a dramatic ending.
This never looked like being a straightforward afternoon after Kasper Schmeichel pushed a Cheikhou Kouyate header on to both posts inside the opening seconds before Vardy opened the scoring in the 18th minute.
However, the England striker's sending-off for simulation early in the second half blew the game wide open, with Winston Reid clipping a post.
Referee Jonathan Moss then further angered the home support by adjudging Wes Morgan had fouled the Hammers defender in the area.
Substitute Carroll slotted home the resulting spot-kick in front of watching England manager Roy Hodgson, who then saw uncapped left-back Cresswell highlight his quality with a sublime strike across goal and into the roof of the net.
There was another twist to come, though, as Moss pointed to the spot at the other end after ruling Carroll had taken down Jeffrey Schlupp and Ulloa held his nerve to equalise and send the Leicester faithful into raptures.
A huge roar met the final whistle - a din that started from the outset and ratcheted up several notches after an extraordinary early let-off for the hosts.
Dimitri Payet's free-kick was directed goalwards by Kouyate and was bound for the net until Schmeichel managed to tip the header onto the post, with the ball rolling across the line and hitting the other post before the Leicester goalkeeper gratefully grabbed it.
It was a remarkable moment that could have changed the outcome of this match - and perhaps the title race - and allowed the hosts to kick on.
Their movement in the box bamboozled the Hammers defence and Robert Huth headed a Marc Albrighton free-kick just wide, before Danny Drinkwater tried his luck from distance.
The hosts' link-up play was as seamless as it was impressive and the 19th-minute opener was a classy team effort.
Riyad Mahrez collected a long throw from Schmeichel and fed N'Golo Kante, whose clever ball put Vardy through to hit a strike that rippled the net.
Leicester's three PFA Player of the Year nominees combined wonderfully for a goal that led to chants of 'are you watching Tottenham?'
The game become fractious as play was broken up by a string of free-kicks, with Vardy and Reid soon getting booked.
The latter's claims for a penalty in the midst of that were ignored, before Mark Noble and Payet also found their names in the book.
Carroll replaced Pedro Obiang when the teams emerged for the second half and was quickly involved, heading wide five minutes after the restart.
The Foxes were soon threatening again, though, and Huth headed a Christian Fuchs cross wide, before Shinji Okazaki's low ball just evaded Vardy at the far post.
From nearly slotting a second, the England striker was soon heading for an early bath.
Latching onto a through ball, he got into a tangle with Angelo Ogbonna in the area and referee Moss adjudged the Leicester forward to have purposely taken a tumble and dished out a second booking.
The majority inside the King Power Stadium were incandescent with rage at the 56th-minute decision that Reid almost capitalised on, sending a Payet cross onto the post with a deft flick.
Emmanuel Emenike flashed a strike over as West Ham pushed for an equaliser that would arrive when Reid went down under pressure from Foxes captain Morgan.
Leicester fumed but Carroll kept his cool to slot home the 84th-minute penalty - a goal that was followed within two minutes by Cresswell's thunderbolt.
It was an exceptional strike that looked to have settled the match, only for Moss to once again point to the spot in stoppage time.
Schlupp went down under pressure from Carroll and Ulloa sent home the penalty, not that the officials were forgiven at the final whistle.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"This title race will be the death of me. It's too excruciatingly tense for my old heart." - former Leicester striker Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker)
Kasper Schmeichel: 7/10
Danny Simpson: 7
Robert Huth: 7
Wes Morgan: 7
Christian Fuchs: 7
Marc Albrighton: 7
Danny Drinkwater: 7
N'Golo Kante: 8
Riyad Mahrez: 7
Shinji Okazaki: 7
Jamie Vardy: 7
Jeff Schlupp (on for Albrighton, 54 mins): 6
Leonardo Ulloa (on for Okazaki, 59 mins): 7
Daniel Amartey (on for Mahrez, 78 mins): 6
Michail Antonio: 7
Winston Reid: 7
Angelo Ogbonna: 7
Aaron Cresswell: 7
Pedro Obiang: 7
Cheikhou Kouyate: 7
Mark Noble: 7
Victor Moses: 7
Dimitri Payet: 7
Emmanuel Emenike: 6
Andy Carroll (on for Obiang, 46mins): 8
Manuel Lanzini (for Noble 63 mins): 6
Enner Valencia (for Moses, 72 mins): 6
N'Golo Kante. The France international was everywhere for the Foxes, especially vital when they were playing with 10 men for the majority of the second half. He demonstrated why he has been nominated for PFA Player of the Year with another all-action display. His pass set up Jamie Vardy to smash in a first-half opener but he was run close by Andy Carroll, who hauled West Ham back into it.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Leonardo Ulloa's late penalty rescued a point for the Foxes and allowed them to extend their lead at the top to eight points. Carroll made a reckless challenge on Jeff Schlupp in stoppage time to allow referee Jon Moss to point to the spot. It could prove a crucial goal in the title race, but Tottenham can cut the gap to five points with a win at Stoke on Monday.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Referee Moss took centre-stage in a headline-grabbing performance, awarding two penalties in the final 10 minutes - and controversially sending off Jamie Vardy. Leicester were furious after Vardy was dismissed, with Moss adjudging he dived under Angelo Ogbonna's challenge, and they had more cause for anger when the official awarded a soft penalty for Wes Morgan's challenge on Winston Reid. But the Hammers were left cursing at the death after Carroll was ruled to have fouled Schlupp to allow Ulloa to score a stoppage-time penalty.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Claudio Ranieri's side ultimately extended their lead at the top of the table to eight points and he will be pleased they salvaged a draw late on. But they will have to play Swansea next week without the suspended Vardy, and Ranieri will be upset to lose his 22-goal top scorer. Slaven Bilic's side looked to have done enough for victory only to implode at the end, but he will be delighted with their second-half efforts.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Leicester v Swansea, Barclays Premier League (Sunday, April 24)
West Ham v Watford, Barclays Premier League (Wednesday, April 20)
Ranieri acknowledged Vardy's red card had had a big impact on the game, telling Sky Sports: "It was a difficult match - very, very tough. We were lucky in the first minute when they had a chance that touched two posts. After, we scored a goal, played our football against a very good team.
"We lost a chance at the beginning of the second half when Okazaki made a cross and Vardy was very close to finishing the action. And then after, the sending-off changed the match."
On Moss' display, he diplomatically said: "I judge my players, not the referee. The referee watched this, it's okay. If some player doesn't play well, makes some mistakes, I speak with them and we try to improve their performance. But the referee is not my matter."
The Italian was delighted with the spirit shown by his players to salvage a point, saying: "Fantastic, fantastic. This is our soul. We play every match like this - blood, heart and soul. It's magnificent. I say 'thank you' to my players, the fans.
"We must believe every time and this point is very very important, psychologically. After 2-1, to go back in the last minute, it's very very important."