Saturday 24 March 2018

Ulloa strikes late to keep Foxes' title tilt on track

Leicester 1-0 Norwich

Leicester City’s striker Leonardo Ulloa celebrates scoring the winning goal at King Power Stadium. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Leicester City’s striker Leonardo Ulloa celebrates scoring the winning goal at King Power Stadium. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Leicester's Jamie Vardy (left) and Norwich's Jonny Howson battle for the ball Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates
Leicester City's N'Golo Kante (right) and Norwich City's Jonathan Howson (left) battle in the air for control of the ball Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Paul Wilson

The Leicester wobble everyone has been waiting for lasted 89 minutes but crucially not the whole match. Alex Neil's admirable Norwich were cruelly undone right at the end of a game they could have won. Until substitute Leonardo Ulloa popped up at the far post to convert Marc Albrighton's cross Leicester had rarely looked like scoring and with a little more attacking conviction Norwich might have done better with chances of their own.

For most of a long afternoon it looked as though Leicester would follow defeat at Arsenal with points squandered at home, but if the sign of champions is picking up points without playing well then Claudio Ranieri's side are still on course. The manager had predicted this game would be a tougher proposition than it looked and he was right.

Full credit to Norwich, they are playing for their lives and making a good job of it, though for the first time in months Leicester failed to manage anything extraordinary. The home side did not look like league leaders, neither did the game resemble a top v bottom contest.

The uncomfortable truth for a home crowd now primed to believe the impossible every week was that the game was pretty much what one would have expected of these two sides at the start of the season. But only for 89 minutes. Once Ulloa secured the win to take Leicester five points clear again, the King Power was a much happier place.

By recent Leicester standards the first half was flat, uneventful, scrappy even. Norwich had come with containment in mind, their three central defenders staying back to deny Jamie Vardy space to run into, and the problem from the home side's point of view was that Riyad Mahrez was not getting into the game either. One delightful dribble into the Norwich area midway through the first half showed exactly what Mahrez could do, with a single switch of direction he left Timm Klose and Alex Tettey floundering, but the final pass eluded Shinji Okazaki and the chance was gone.

There was a shot from distance from Albrighton, a half-chance in front of goal for Okazaki, and an Albrighton free-kick that eluded everyone in the box and flew only just outside John Ruddy's left-hand post, but none of the quick, incisive counters we have come to expect from Leicester.

That was mainly because Norwich were smart enough not to throw too many players into attack and play to their opponents' strengths, yet even so the visitors came closest to a goal before the interval. Cameron Jerome missed the target with a free header from a corner when he really should have done better, then Nathan Redmond ended the first half by bringing a save from Kasper Schmeichel. Norwich were so encouraged that in stoppage time they did commit slightly too many players forward, allowing Mahrez to carry the ball over the halfway line in what was the first sight of a typical Leicester break, but he ran out of ideas and support before the cover managed to close in.

Mahrez saw more of the ball in the second half and a couple of runs were only stopped at the expense of free-kicks, from one of which the ball was tapped to Vardy for a low drive that Ruddy got down low to save.

By the hour stage Norwich were beginning to be pinned back in their own half, though Leicester were not exactly peppering Ruddy's goal. Mahrez was the only player who seemed to have any attacking ideas, and when Albrighton brought a routine save from the goalkeeper in the 66th minute it registered as only the home side's second shot on target of the afternoon.

Redmond and Matt Jarvis had chances before the end, and Norwich were clearly torn between sticking to their conservative game-plan and going for broke. They would have been more than happy with a point and the knowledge that not many teams have stifled Leicester this season, but ended up with nothing.

Mahrez sniffed out Albrighton in space on the right, a low cross eluded Vardy at the near post but found Ulloa in exactly the right place to beat a tired Ivo Pinto to the ball. Game over, miracle season back on.


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