'The fans are dreaming, and we are dreaming'
Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30
Claudio Ranieri has revealed he pleaded with Jamie Vardy at half-time to come up with a goal before the England international scored twice in the second half to push Leicester City to within touching distance of the Premier League crown.
Leicester were made to work hard for the win against a battling Sunderland side who should have equalised after Vardy's first goal when Jack Rodwell somehow failed to hit the target from six yards out.
But when they needed their top goalscorer to return to form - he had not scored in open play since the start of February for his club - Vardy delivered in spectacular fashion, his brace taking him to 21 league goals this season.
"I said to Jamie at half-time: 'I need you, your team-mates need you, to score a goal' and that is exactly what he did," said Ranieri, who cried with emotion after the final whistle as he applauded Leicester's travelling fans.
"Jamie had not scored for a while, but he has come up with some fantastic assists for his team-mates, but goalscorers always want to score goals, so he is happy and I'm very happy."
Ranieri claimed it was the sight of an elderly Leicester supporter before the game that had prompted his post-match tears. "I want to say thank you for the support. They are amazing. They are dreaming. We want to keep on dreaming.
"It is fantastic when you see before the match an old lady with Leicester shirt outside the stadium. They came from Leicester, that is fantastic, that is emotion as well."
As ever, Ranieri tried to cool talk of Leicester winning the title after another tricky test had been passed.
"I don't mind our supporters singing we are going to win the league and I don't mind people saying that outside of the club," he added. "But it is important we keep our focus, our concentration is on the match. It is important we won today, but we have difficult matches against West Ham and Swansea.
"Every time I speak to them, it is always next match, next match. I don't want to speak about anything more than the first match, it is not important whether you lose or win, but no more than the next match.
"Our goal was to be safe and that was okay. The next I said: 'Arrive in the Europa League' and it is done. Now we have the Champions League very close to us. Now I say, 'Come on, keep going'."
In fact, Leicester secured a Champions League spot when Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester United later in the afternoon.
For Sunderland, this defeat edged them closer to relegation, although they still have hope ahead of next weekend's crucial trip to Norwich City. For manager Sam Allardyce, though, there was inevitably frustration, particularly about Rodwell's failure to equalise.
"You will not get a better chance to score than that," said Allardyce. "The turning point was Jack Rodwell's miss, which is becoming one of our problems now. We're not converting chances.
"We've allowed ourselves one slip in defence, which we should have mastered. Everybody knows Leicester play lots of balls over your defence to try to get Vardy in.
"We slipped up once, allowed Vardy in and he scored. That was disappointing. I'd have preferred them to score any other way because that's his main threat. We'd coped okay up until then, but that's no good if you let him in once."
Allardyce continued: "I think Leicester are unique in the fact that they don't have to be pretty. They don't have to play a certain way. The way that they're playing is so good, their fans love it.
"Whereas fans at some bigger clubs might moan about it and complain about them playing 'not the right type of football'. It's terrific for them.
"Each and every player is playing better, and with more consistency, than they've ever done before. They don't seem to put a foot wrong and good luck to them."