Tuesday 6 December 2016

Response to Vardy's red card will define Leicester's season

Simpson insists Foxes will cope during star's ban, writes Mark Ogden

Mark Ogden

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City walks off after being sent off by referee Jonathan Moss. Photo: Getty
Jamie Vardy of Leicester City walks off after being sent off by referee Jonathan Moss. Photo: Getty

There are turning points in every Premier League title race - pivotal moments which ultimately dictate where the Premier League trophy eventually ends up.

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Some appear immediately decisive, with the ramifications of other taking time to fully rise to the surface.

Manchester United still had five games left to play when Steve Bruce scored two headers in the final four minutes to secure a 2-1 victory against Sheffield Wednesday in April 1993, but the defender's contribution proved crucial in turning the tide in his team's favour.

Eric Cantona's winner for United at Newcastle in March 1996 carried similar importance, while Arsenal galloped to the title in 1998 after Marc Overmars secured a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

While all of the above were slow-burning indicators, Steven Gerrard's slip against Chelsea at Anfield in April 2014, when Demba Ba pounced on the Liverpool captain's mistake before scoring in front of the Kop, felt like an instant swing of the pendulum away from the Merseysiders towards Manchester City, and so it proved.

Traced

When this season's title race is decided, the key moment is likely to be traced back to Sunday, April 17 during Leicester City's 2-2 draw at home to West Ham.

The moment that the title was won, or lost, will either prove to be Leonardo Ulloa's penalty, five minutes into stoppage-time, which earned a point for Claudio Ranieri's team or the second-half dismissal of Jamie Vardy for a second yellow card, shown for diving.

Vardy will certainly miss one game - the visit of Swansea City this weekend - and may yet miss the trip to Old Trafford a week later if the Football Association find that the England forward was abusive towards referee Jon Moss following his dismissal.

Leicester's fate now appears wrapped in their response to losing Vardy.

They displayed grit and resolve to drag themselves to a point against West Ham, but without their 22-goal leading Premier League scorer, can they still succeed against Swansea and United, or will the wheels grind to a halt without his pace, tenacity, movement and goals?

Vardy has started in every one of Leicester's 34 league games this season, delivering not only those 22 goals, but also six assists.

His contribution has been crucial, but despite his obvious importance to the team, there is a steely belief within the dressing-room that Leicester can survive without their talisman, be it for one, two or even more games without him.

"Vardy has been one of the best players in the league," said Leicester defender Danny Simpson. "But Leo (Ulloa) came on against West Ham and got a point for us and that was a lot of pressure for anyone to deal with.

"Other players have scored in the team and, before last week, Vards hadn't scored for five or six games, so we'll deal with it.

"We've got other players who can come in, just look at the West Ham game. Jeff (Schlupp) came on and won us a penalty and Leo came on and scored. Dema (Demarai Gray) has come on in the last few weeks and showed for a young lad his maturity and he's an attacking threat. So I'm sure we'll cope with it well."

The incident which led to Vardy's dismissal, and the FA investigation into his subsequent angry reaction, was prompted by Moss judging the 29-year-old to have dived following a challenge by Angelo Ogbonna.

It remains a decision which splits opinion, with some backing Moss as Jamie Carragher did on last night's Monday Night Football on Sky Sports and others suggesting it was no more than a free-kick to West Ham, with Vardy fouling Ogbonna before going to ground.

Simpson reckons the decision was a 'soft' one.

"I was quite far away, but I know Vards is that quick and I know he's an honest player," Simpson said.

"At the time I thought it was going to be a penalty, maybe it was a bit soft, but it's unfortunate for him and the team because he misses a game now."

Without Vardy, Leicester displayed their fighting spirit to haul themselves level against a West Ham team who remain in the hunt for Champions League qualification.

Since losing to Danny Welbeck's stoppage-time goal at Arsenal on Valentine's Day, Leicester have remained unbeaten in the league, earning points with late goals against the likes of West Ham and Norwich.

And Simpson believes that Leicester resolve cannot be questioned after their latest fight back against West Ham.

"It was horrible," Simpson said. "But I think we showed our togetherness and team spirit and fight.

"We could have dropped our heads when we went down to 2-1 and accepted it, but that's not us and that's not our group.

"I think, psychologically, that proved to the world how together we are. We got on with it and I think we got a massive point. For us guys to get a point has shown that we're going to keep fighting until the end."

But how Leicester now respond without Vardy will define their season and decide whether Ulloa's penalty, rather than Moss' flash of red, will become the moment on which their title tilt hinges.

Independent News Service

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