Leicester back on top of the Premier League after Stoke win
Published 23/01/2016 | 17:06
All looks rosy again for Leicester after a return to winning ways coincided with Jamie Vardy ending his goal drought in a 3-0 victory over Stoke which sent the Foxes top of the Barclays Premier League.
The doubting voices were beginning to increase in volume and number as Claudio Ranieri's side stuttered, winning only one of their previous five league games - and seven in all competitions.
But after Danny Drinkwater's volley broke the stalemate shortly before half-time and Vardy rounded Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland to slot home his first goal in seven Premier League matches, the King Power Stadium was bouncing to the tune of "We're all going on a European tour".
And the Foxes faithful might be right. Leicester, temporarily at least ahead of Manchester City's game at West Ham on Saturday evening and Arsenal's clash with Chelsea on Sunday, went three points clear at the top of the table and 12 in front of the sixth-placed Hammers.
It would take a shocking collapse for Ranieri's men not to be competing in Europe - after a 16-year absence - next season.
Substitute Leonardo Ulloa stabbed home a third goal late on to seal a vital victory, with Leicester's next three league games being Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.
The two teams had cancelled each other out until the 18th minute when there was a chance at either end.
First Jonathan Walters got in on goal, although it was only a half chance for the Republic of Ireland striker, with a run behind Wes Morgan but he could not get the ball under control and Kasper Schmeichel raced towards the penalty spot to gather.
Leicester immediately counter-attacked and Marc Albrighton's low, whipped ball in from the left was swept goalwards by Vardy and Butland spilled his shot before a defender cleared the danger. From the resulting corner Riyad Mahrez sent a volley narrowly wide.
There was a brilliant piece of defending by Danny Simpson in the 27th minute. Mame Diouf looked certain to head home Xherdan Shaqiri's lovely floated cross at the far post but Simpson strained every sinew to get the first touch on the ball and divert it behind to keep the game goalless.
It looked like it would remain that way at the break but Drinkwater drove home a volley from the edge of the penalty area.
Leicester had caused Stoke problems with corners throughout the first half and when Philipp Wollscheid, falling to the ground, could not get enough purchase on his header to clear the ball sufficiently, Drinkwater smashed it back with interest into the bottom corner of the net.
Schmeichel was alert when called on to make his first real save of the game just after the hour, batting away Joselu's header to preserve Leicester's lead.
It proved decisive as shortly afterwards Vardy latched on to Drinkwater's knock over the top, calmly went round the advancing Butland and guided the ball into the back of the net from a tight angle for his first goal since December 14.
It had been a tight game but now Leicester looked like they could create chances at will. Vardy, Mahrez and Albrighton all threatened before Mahrez crossed for sub Ulloa to poke in from close range with three minutes remaining.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
#LCFCVSCFC - "That will do #lcfc striker Jamie Vardy the world of good to get back on the scoresheet.. Taken superbly. #LeiSto" - Leicester Mercury football writer Rob Tanner (@RobTannerMerc) believes Jamie Vardy will be delighted to end his goal drought.
Kasper Schmeichel: 8
Danny Simpson: 8
Wes Morgan: 8
Robert Huth: 8
Christian Fuchs: 8
Riyad Mahrez: 7
N'Golo Kante: 8
Danny Drinkwater: 9
Marc Albrighton: 7
Shinji Okazaki: 7
Jamie Vardy: 7
Leonardo Ulloa (for Okazaki, 62): 7
Demarai Gray (for Albrighton, 88): 4
Jack Butland: 6
Glen Johnson: 7
Ryan Shawcross: 6
Philipp Wollscheid: 7
Erik Pieters: 5
Glenn Whelan: 6
Ibrahim Afellay: 5
Xherdan Shaqiri: 6
Jonathan Walters: 7
Mame Diouf: 6
Mato Joselu: 6
Marc Wilson (for Shawcross, 30): 5
Peter Odemwingie (for Diouf, 71): 4
Peter Crouch (for Shaqiri, 79): 5
Danny Drinkwater - A superb all-round performance, capped by his first Premier League goal. The former Manchester United trainee also provided the perfectly-weighted pass over the top of the Stoke defence for Vardy's goal. A much under-appreciated midfielder this season, he has been superb.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Vardy's goal. The relief was tangible as the ball rolled over the goal line and into the back of the net. The King Power Stadium held its breath as he rounded Butland and the noise when it was released - as Leicester went 2-0 ahead - was explosive. Vardy's drought was over, Leicester had a two-goal lead and were heading back to the top of the table.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Ranieri will be so happy. His team answered a lot of critics and doubters on Saturday with a vital win to put the pressure right back on Manchester City and Arsenal, who the Foxes face in their next three matches.
Mark Hughes will be disappointed his team never really got going. They created very little and will have to be much better at Anfield on Tuesday night if they want to overturn a first-leg deficit and make it to Wembley in the Capital One Cup. Stoke's hopes of European football took a bit of a blow at the King Power.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Mahrez went down a little easily in the second half looking for a free-kick in a dangerous position, when in reality he had over-ran the ball. He does not need to do that, he is such a gifted player.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Leicester v Liverpool (Premier League, Tuesday February 2)
Liverpool v Stoke (Capital One Cup, Tuesday January 26)