Thursday 14 December 2017

Hit-man Vardy fires Foxes up to dizzy heights of fifth

Leicester City 1-0 Crystal Palace

Jamie Vardy scores Leicester's first goal
Jamie Vardy scores Leicester's first goal
Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon tries to evade Christian Fuchs
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri celebrates at full time
Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha battles to control the ball against Jeffrey Schlupp

Peter Lansley

Jamie Vardy paused for just long enough as he celebrated scoring for the 10th time in the Premier League this season to count all his fingers. He is going to need a hand from his team-mates shortly because "England's No 9", as the Leicester fans hailed him, is in no mood to stop his prolific run any time soon.

The ex-Stocksbridge Park Steels/ Halifax striker joined an elite list of marksmen to have scored in seven successive league games as he broke the deadlock between the division's two surprise packages just before the hour mark.

To the names of Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mark Stein and Daniel Sturridge can now be added that of Vardy who is playing with such belief they should consider relaunching Roy of the Rovers with his face on the front.

This time Claudio Ranieri's gravity-defying team did not even have to go behind for Vardy to take the mantle of their goalscoring hero. Only Arsenal have a better away record in 2015 than Crystal Palace since Alan Pardew took charge but Leicester snuffed out their threat bravely, keeping a clean sheet for the first time this season.

Vardy smashed the ball high into the net with such child-like joy after he had dinked it over Wayne Hennessey as he raced on to Riyad Mahrez's pass when Brede Hangeland made a hash of playing out Scott Dann's headed pass. Even when Kasper Schmeichel boots out a long high pass in the direction of the 28-year-old striker, an air of anticipation permeates the ground. No one is safe when Vardy is around.

The striker's goalscoring feats are the icing on the remarkable cake that is the rise and rise of Leicester. Not many neutrals - maybe even Leicester fans - would have backed Ranieri to keep the snowball rolling when Nigel Pearson's achievement in leading them to an unlikely survival from relegation in May was followed by the manager's dismissal.

Yet here they are, defeated once this season, fifth in the Premier League, sitting level on points with Manchester United, two points off the summit. No one expects it to last once the top teams take their break from European action and injuries and suspensions test out depths of squad, but gaining 19 points from 10 games means Leicester are halfway to staying up even as we reach the season's quarter mark. Then comes the opportunity to play with even more freedom, attract better players and keep their best ones. Vardy's commitment to the cause seems to reach new heights the more successful he becomes. Perhaps that comes from the hunger of a former non-league player who appreciates what life is like at both ends of the football spectrum.

Even in the 90th minute Vardy was sprinting back like an untamed fox, launching himself into a tackle on Bakary Sako that denied Palace the kind of counter-attack on which they have thrived in their own superb start to the season and earning him a yellow card.

Palace had won nine out of their 12 away games under Pardew yet, despite Leicester's propensity for going behind before fighting back, they found themselves on the back foot in the opening half-hour, Marc Albrighton skipping past two challenges before shooting left-footed against the foot of a post. Mahrez whizzed the rebound just wide of the same upright.

With Sako playing off Fraizer Campbell with Dwight Gayle suspended, Palace failed to find any penetration in the first period. Even after Vardy's 10th goal of the season, making him the Premier League's top scorer, when Leicester were forced on to the back foot, Palace could not find the equaliser. Patrick Bamford's header was brilliantly saved by Schmeichel then Christian Fuchs had to head off the line.

When Wilfried Zaha was rightly booked for diving three minutes from time, Leicester sensed it was their day, and Vardy's. Again.


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