Monday 11 December 2017

Jack Grealish cracker in vain as Foxes' stunning comeback leaves Villa in shock

Leicester City 3-2 Aston Villa

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring their second goal
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring their second goal
Nathan Dyer scores the third goal for Leicester
Aston Villa's Carles Gil scores their second goal

John Percy

For a man who lists 'Ghost' as his favourite film, Claudio Ranieri's return to the Premier League is proving box-office but this was a script that would have been deemed far-fetched by Hollywood.

Ranieri is already seven points above former club Chelsea in the table after a remarkable late revival, inspired by the outstanding Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, which settled an absorbing Midlands derby at the King Power Stadium.

The 63-year-old was seen as yesterday's man when he was appointed in July but Leicester supporters are now dreaming of a bright future after a club record nine games without defeat in the top flight.

Nathan Dyer, signed on deadline day after being flown in by helicopter, delivered the final contribution with a goal that must have felt like the ejector seat for Tim Sherwood.

Villa appeared to have the cigars out after Jack Grealish's first Premier League goal and a sumptuous second from Carles Gil looked to have shattered Ranieri's unbeaten start.

But Ritchie De Laet and Vardy sparked off the comeback before Dyer headed in a dramatic 89th-minute winner to stun Sherwood, who will be under scrutiny for some bewildering substitutions.

Ranieri, though, is loving life under the spotlight and those predictions that he would be the first managerial sacking look misjudged.

"It's only September. Afterwards we can dream but not now. We have to stay focused and the goal is to stay in the Premier League," he said.

"You can lose but it's important to fight until the end of the match. We showed spirit, good character, and my players believed everything was possible. We are solid with our feet on the ground. I told the players we have 11 points and we still need 29."

Only Manchester City have scored more league goals than Leicester in 2015, but Ranieri's unbeaten record had appeared in grave danger for an hour.

Villa's reconstructed team dominated the first half, controlling midfield and breaking with pace.

Grealish had missed a simple chance before he produced an unerring finish in the 40th minute.

Leicester failed to adequately clear the ball after a corner and Grealish bent home a wonderful shot from the edge of the box to underline why he is at the centre of an intensifying battle between Roy Hodgson and Martin O'Neill for his international services.

Ranieri had no option but to tinker. Dyer was introduced for the second half while Mahrez was pushed further up front, sparking a vast improvement.

But Villa seemed to have sucked the life out of them in the 64th minute with a killer second after a breathtaking counter-attack.

Gabriel Agbonlahor utilised his pace to exploit a gaping hole down the left, and Gil picked up his pass on the edge of the area to curl the ball into the corner.

Game over? Not so. Leicester were back in it seven minutes later, with help from Hawk-Eye, when De Laet hooked a shot in off the crossbar and over the goal-line.

With Agbonlahor and Gil both surprisingly hooked, Villa had no outlet on the break and Leicester scented blood.

Vardy, who had been proving more of a pest as the game grew older, then hauled the Foxes level in the 82nd minute after more brilliance from Mahrez. The Algerian winger advanced 30 yards to find Danny Drinkwater and his low cross was converted by the England striker.

Mahrez was then denied by Brad Guzan before Dyer had the last word, capitalising on hesitancy from Villa's goalkeeper to head the ball into the unguarded net.

Sherwood was desolate and offered a predictably downbeat assessment.

"I've never felt this bad. It's the worst I've ever felt and I'm gutted for everyone who's associated with the football club. Who cares if we played well? We lost," he said.

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