Monday 20 November 2017

Battling Villa peg back Foxes to pick up a precious point

Aston Villa 1 Leicester City 1

Leicester's Jamie Vardy is held back after clashing with Aston Villa's Leandro Bacuna (not pictured) Photo: Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine
Leicester's Jamie Vardy is held back after clashing with Aston Villa's Leandro Bacuna (not pictured) Photo: Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine

Paul Doyle

The result took Leicester to the top of the table while leaving Aston Villa with a slim chance of clambering off the bottom. But if the result was far from ideal for both sides, the home team's fightback after falling behind to a first-half goal by Shinji Okazaki proved that Villa still have pride, at least. Mark Bunn saved a penalty from Riyad Mahrez before the break, and Rudy Gestede equalised 15 minutes from the end. It was the least Villa deserved.

Scarves on sale near the ground before kick-off bore the battle-cry "Lerner out - we want our Villa back," making it plain that Tuesday's victory over Crystal Palace had been nowhere near enough to banish anger at Villa's fall from grace.

Not surprising given that even after their first home win of the campaign, and their first win of any kind under Remi Garde, a club that has been a top-flight staple for nearly three decades remained far adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table.

Yet football permits all kinds of fantasy so that midweek win did at least spawn a frail hope that Villa might, just possibly, go on to enjoy an ever greater escape from the relegation zone than the one that Leicester pulled off last season. Claudio Ranieri's men came here on a mission to crush that hope - and bring their own title dream closer to reality.

Both managers named unchanged teams after their midweek triumphs. Villa made the brisker start. But in 10 minutes of busy scampering they did not trouble the visiting defence. Leicester mustered the first threat when Marc Albrighton swung a free-kick into the box. Jamie Vardy's header from 12 yards bounced wide. Three minutes later the striker again got to the ball before any Villa player, this time chasing a flick-on before being upended by Bunn, the goalkeeper having charged out of his box expecting to beat the rapid striker to the ball, raising questions as to how closely he has been paying attention to Vardy's feats this season.

It was a tight game but Villa's problem is they can unravel at any moment. They were made to pay for doing so in the 28th minute, when they allowed Vardy to run on to a punt from Kaspar Schmeichel. The striker aimed a delicate lob over Bunn, who backtracked well to claw it off the line, but Okazaki reacted faster than any defender to convert the rebound.

Leicester should have put Villa away four minutes later after Aly Cissokho blocked a shot by Mahrez with his arm. Mahrez tried to deceive the goalkeeper from the penalty spot but Bunn made a fine improvised save. Suddenly Villa believed in a revival. Two minutes later they could have equalised but Jordan Ayew headed inches wide from an Ashley Westwood free-kick. Leicester invited pressure, retreating deep to protect their lead while making space for the breaks at which they excel. Danny Drinkwater forced a decent save from Bunn following a corner, after which Ranieri replaced Okazaki with Ritchie De Laet, a switch aimed at making his side even more solid.

Villa kept coming. Ayew dribbled brilliantly to the byline before pulling the ball back to Leandro Bacuna, who failed to shoot with enough power to beat Schemichel. Moments later Leicester nearly scoured on the break, but Bunn denied Vardy.

Garde went for broke, introducing Gestede alongside Kozak up front. Villa's doggedness was soon rewarded when the powerful striker collected the ball at the edge of the area, barged past Robert Huth and benefited from a slice of luck when his shot took a nick off Morgan and continued into the net. Villa deserved their equaliser, and went looking for a winner. But they came up just short.


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