Sunday 22 April 2018

Ranieri willing to take risks as Ulloa raises title stakes for Foxes

Leicester City 1 Norwich Ccity 0

Leonardo Ulloa celebrates after scoring Leicester City's goal. Photo: Alan Walter/Action Images
Leonardo Ulloa celebrates after scoring Leicester City's goal. Photo: Alan Walter/Action Images
Leicester City's N'Golo Kante compets for the ball with Norwich City's Jonny Howson. Photo: Alan Walter/Action Images
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (left) and Norwich City's Jonny Howson battle for the ball during the match at the King Power Stadium. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Leicester City's Jefferey Schlupp (left) and Christian Fuchs (right) battle for the ball in the air with Norwich City's Cameron Jerome during the Barclays Premier League match at the King Power Stadium. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

John Percy

For thrill-seekers and fans of unrelenting, stomach-churning drama, the King Power Stadium is the place to be for the final months of this season.

Leicester City's ground was transformed into an arena of anxiety on Saturday and this was surely a sign of things to come for Claudio Ranieri and his players as they pursue a fairytale ending to the season.

The visit of West Bromwich Albion tomorrow threatens to be another nerve-shredding occasion, yet this victory over Norwich had the feel of a pivotal afternoon in the Premier League title race.

This was an ugly win but then Alex Ferguson made just that type of victory a feature of the final furlong of his title-winning campaigns.

Ranieri temporarily lived up to his old Tinkerman nickname with a crucial substitution, replacing Ghanaian defender Daniel Amartey with Leonardo Ulloa in the 78th minute, and was rewarded with the striker settling the contest.

"We took the risk but the manager is hired for this reason - to take a risk," said the Italian. "I said: 'In or out - it's not important now. One point is nothing - we have to win today. You can lose but it's only one point less than a draw.

"I understand everyone asks will we win the title? I don't know. Let me now get past the next four matches, then I might say something more. I can't tell you too much for another month.

"But it was important for us to restart after the Arsenal defeat and restart well. It wasn't important whether we played well or played badly, what was important was to take a victory."

This was far from the effervescent, vibrant Leicester who captured the imagination of the country and more a triumph for patience and endurance.

The tension was excruciating and, for possibly the first time this season, the magnitude of what Leicester could achieve appeared to dawn on the players.

Norwich were disciplined and defensively resilient, with manager Alex Neil adopting a three-man defence, yet Leicester celebrated at the end as if the title was already theirs.

They are expecting further frustration against Tony Pulis tomorrow evening but Ulloa, who put away Marc Albrighton's cross a minute from time, insisted they can handle the heat.

"Last year the pressure was to stay in the Premier League and now we are fighting to get into the Champions League or to win the title," he said.

"There's no pressure on us. The pressure is for the big teams. We have our best ever season but we need to keep going.

"Every game is difficult for us. People think it's easy for Leicester - it's not. It's important to stay focused and to give 100 per cent because against Norwich it was so difficult and against West Brom it will be the same."

Norwich could have sentenced Leicester to defeat if they had taken chances, with Cameron Jerome missing a simple first-half header from Robbie Brady's corner.

Even after Ulloa's late goal there was an opportunity to equalise but Patrick Bamford, a substitute, shot wide. These are the fine margins for Norwich.

However, this performance will still have provided them with encouragement ahead of two huge games against Chelsea and Swansea this week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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