Puel put on spot as Vardy penalty miss gives Spurs a boost
Tottenham3 Leicester 1
It was four minutes that not only decided this game, but which will also intensify the scrutiny on Leicester City manager Claude Puel.
He had named Jamie Vardy only as a substitute, but when his team won a 59th-minute penalty and the chance to draw level with Tottenham Hotspur, he did finally turn to the club's leading goalscorer.
And so on went Vardy for the highly unusual challenge of a crucial penalty-kick with his first touch of a game that Leicester City had already created enough chances to win.
Vardy failed to score, striking the ball firmly but at a comfortable height for Hugo Lloris to save.
Leicester's intense frustration was then compounded when Christian Eriksen promptly doubled Tottenham's lead with a goal that effectively sealed victory before a late Son Heung-min strike. It keeps Mauricio Pochettino's team within five points of Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the table.
The questions for Puel were twofold. Was it wise to put that sort of immediate penalty pressure on a player who had been on the bench only minutes earlier? And why did he decide in the first place that Demarai Gray, with three league goals this season, was a better option than someone who has scored 28 times in 51 games against 'big six' opposition?
The wider context, of course, was Vardy's very public show of anger when Leicester were beaten 1-0 by Manchester United last week.
Puel had been forced to address the situation last Friday, insisting the pair had a "good" relationship. He also stressed that he supported the idea of Vardy taking the pivotal penalty instead of James Maddison.
"I have nothing against Jamie," said Puel. "He was ready to come on the pitch and I gave him the opportunity to shoot the penalty."
Puel explained starting with Gray rather than Vardy in terms of a wish "to see other options" and the danger the 22-year-old might create behind Tottenham's defence.
With Wednesday night's Champions League tie against Borussia Dortmund looming, Spurs' usual intensity was lacking. Leicester created the best first-half chances even if their attack lacked a convincing cutting edge.
England centre-back Harry Maguire forced the first significant test of Lloris with a powerful header from only just inside the penalty area, while Harvey Barnes twice wasted clear opportunities after exploiting defensive holes.
Tottenham had started with Son Heung-min up front alongside Fernando Llorente amid the unavailability of Harry Kane and he was booked by referee Michael Oliver after falling dramatically following a challenge by Maguire.
Replays did confirm that there might have been slight contact, but there could be little sympathy in the context of Son's more obvious theatrics inside Leicester's penalty area. It was the fourth time that a Tottenham player has been booked for diving this season.
Son, though, was still maintaining his excellent recent form and he then created a chance for Danny Rose that was brilliantly saved by Kasper Schmeichel's outstretched arm.
A corner would soon follow and Tottenham took the lead with a superbly planned set-piece. First, Kieran Trippier passed the ball to Eriksen outside the penalty area. He in turn delivered a curling low cross that allowed Davinson Sanchez to stoop below Maguire and head home his first Tottenham goal.
No team have won more points in the Premier League this season from a losing position than Leicester, but with Gray missing first a header and then a good shooting chance, the clamour for Vardy was audibly gathering momentum among the visitors' fans.
He did finally strip down to his kit after 57 minutes and, with Puel poised to make a change, Leicester won a penalty following Jan Vertonghen's clumsy challenge on Maddison.
The likely chance to draw level suddenly became a two-goal deficit when Vardy missed and Llorente teed up Eriksen to make to 2-0 with a superb finish inside Schmeichel's near post.
It was ultimately decisive, even if Vardy did halve Tottenham's lead with a good close-range finish following Ricardo Pereira's cross.
Leicester pushed hard for an equaliser, but as the match entered stoppage time an attack broke down and Moussa Sissoko released Son to sprint from inside his own half and finish past Schmeichel.
With their squad depleted by injury, limited recent investment and still no date to move back to White Hart Lane, Spurs had secured their 20th win in 26 league matches.
Pochettino's reaction underlined his relief and he later admitted that he "didn't behave properly" in kicking the ball into the stands in celebration.
"It was a massive moment because I can feel the three points in our side," he said. "It's fantastic, sometimes, to win games not playing your best." (© Daily Telegraph, London.)