Thursday 19 April 2018

Ranieri moved to tears as title edges closer

Sunderland 0-2 Leicester City

Jamie Vardy scores Leicester’s opening goal in their victory against Sunderland. Photo: Getty
Jamie Vardy scores Leicester’s opening goal in their victory against Sunderland. Photo: Getty
Leicester's Kasper Schmeichel celebrates at the end of the match. Photo: Reuters
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri. Photo: Reuters
Sunderland's Fabio Borini looks dejected after missing a chance. Photo: Reuters
Jamie Vardy celebrates with Wes Morgan after scoring the second goal for Leicester. Photo: Reuters

Luke Edwards

As Claudio Ranieri applauded Leicester City's supporters after the final whistle, his eyes welled up and his lips began to tremble. He sniffed away the tears, turned and tried to regain his composure before speaking to his players in a triumphant dressing-room.

The Italian may still steadfastly refuse to talk about his side being crowned champions, but his emotions betrayed him here. He knows how close he and Leicester are to football immortality. Their deeds will never be forgotten, the stories will be passed down from this generation to the next and beyond.

A Champions League place is secure, but Leicester will surely claim the biggest domestic prize of them all after this tricky test was passed with a flourish from Jamie Vardy.

Leicester are giving a season that has thrilled us with so many tales of the unexpected a strangely predictable conclusion as they canter towards their coronation with Vardy leading the irresistible, unstoppable charge.


This was their fifth successive win and clean sheet. A team that initially stunned us with their achievements, are cruising towards one of the most remarkable triumphs in the history of English football.

We had to stop calling Leicester underdogs in the title race months ago, but they are now so ruthlessly effective, they have turned into bullies. They are too well drilled, strong, resolute and effective to be beaten.

Almost everyone away from Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal believes it is now a case of when, not if, Leicester win the title.

The biggest, most telling compliment you can pay a team that looked as though it was going to be relegated 12 months ago is that wins like this have become routine.

Leicester look and play like champions, finding a way to win, making the most of their luck, even against a club like Sunderland who, fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table, played well and caused problems.

As was so often the case at the start of this incredible season, when Leicester needed their star man, he delivered. Vardy had not scored in open play for his club since February 2, but as Sunderland began to sense their opponents were in trouble, the England striker pounced.

The long ball out of defence from Danny Drinkwater - whose chances of making the England squad for the Euros continue to improve - was superb and Vardy sprinted clear of Younes Kaboul, opened his body up and placed a shot beyond the dive of Vito Mannone.

It was Vardy's 20th Premier League goal of the season and he notched his 21st in stoppage-time, running on to a pass from Demarai Gray, rounding Mannone and rolling the ball into an empty net, the rags-to-riches boy delivering once again for the Cinderella club. The fairytale is almost complete.

Leicester started well, their blue shirts occupying the Sunderland half like an invasion force. Sunderland, though, have had Sam Allardyce drilling defensive resilience into them since the autumn and all Leicester had to show for their early pressure was an ambitious long-range volley from N'Golo Kante, gathered easily by Mannone, and a better chance which Wes Morgan headed wide from a corner.

Sunderland stood up well to the challenge. Ranieri's men were in for a difficult afternoon, although they might have had a penalty when Deandre Yedlin collided with Shinji Okazaki, who flung himself to the ground, only for referee Anthony Taylor to wave play on.

There were more long-range shots from the visitors, Drinkwater, this time from a corner deep into the box, volleying high and wide.

Sunderland also went close as Kaboul sent a header over. They also had a penalty appeal turned down when Robert Huth blocked a Patrick van Aanholt cross with his hand.

Leicester remained composed at the back, but there were mistakes in attack, Vardy scuffing a first-time shot that he probably would have lashed into the bottom corner before Christmas.

Seconds later, Sunderland almost sneaked a goal as Fabio Borini's shot deflected off Morgan, but Kasper Schmeichel (left), moving in the opposite direction, managed to keep it out with his trailing leg.

Borini threatened again straight after half-time, cutting in from the right, though his shot was deflected behind. From the resulting corner, he hit another effort wide from the edge of the area.

The home side continued to worry the Leicester defence, Borini failing to hit the target for a third time in as many minutes when Jermain Defoe's blocked shot spun into his path and he drilled the ball over the crossbar.

Leicester were wobbling and they could not grab a goal to ease their nerves.

Then Vardy intervened, his two goals taking him alongside Gary Lineker as Leicester's record top scorer in a top-flight season.

Sunderland poured forward, but as has often been the case since the turn of the year, they could not take their chances, substitute Jack Rodwell guilty of the worst miss when he failed to hit the target from six yards out.

Sunderland must beat Norwich City next weekend to stand any realistic chance of avoiding relegation to the Championship.

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