Leicester City 3:0 Stoke City
City emphatically ended their slight mid-season wobble and took a big stride in their Premier League title bid with a magnificent 3-0 win over Stoke City in front of an adoring KPS. Equally as significant, Jamie Vardy proved he has fully recovered from his groin operation with a quality strike with the game still in the balance against a very well-organised opposition.
There were no surprises in Claudio Ranieri’s team selection with the first-choice eleven restored after the FA Cup distraction. Chances were few and far between in the opening quarter-of-an-hour with a deep-lying Stoke defence preventing City making any attacking impact and their tall back-line snuffing out any aerial challenge.
Stoke were first to attack when Walters went through but was thwarted by Morgan and an on-rushing Schmeichel.
City characteristically broke up-field with Mahrez, Albrighton whipped in a fine low cross and a crisp Vardy shot was saved by Butland.
Mahrez almost opened the scoring from the resulting corner but his spectacular bicycle kick was narrowly wide.
One of City’s unsung heroes Danny Simpson had to be alert to divert a Shaqiri cross with Diouf waiting to finish before another, Drinkwater, opened the scoring on 42 minutes. Stoke only half-cleared an Albrighton corner and the ball fell to Drinkwater 20 yards out. His fierce low shot, that took a slight deflection past Buland, made many a City fan’s cup of tea taste that little bit sweeter at half-time.
Incredibly it was City’s first goal of the season from outside the box.
Like the first-half, the second started slowly until the game burst into life when Schmeichel punched away a Joselu header. |
Then, on 66 minutes came the moment that Vardy and all City fans had long been waiting for, 10 hours and 17 minutes to be precise.
A delightful lofted pass from Man of the Match Drinkwater fell just over Vardy’s shoulder, and he expertly took the ball around the keeper with his first touch and slotted home from a narrow angle to produce the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
Vardy almost got his second after being set up by Kante who danced though three tackles and fed Vardy, only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle. Vardy’s animated applause of the imperious Frenchman was echoed by all.
City were now in full flow and had categorically banished any pessimism after only one league win in the previous four weeks and the fervour in the stands transferred itself onto the pitch and onto Mahrez in particular.
A goal for the re-energised Algerian, who was now running at Stoke defenders at will, would have been the icing on the cake. However, he had to do with assist, but with a piece of trickery that will be doing the rounds on YouTube for many a year and presumably have the unwitting Stoke defender having nightmares for just as long.
With three minutes remaining, a terrific move was started by a Schmeichel kick, headed on by substitute Ulloa to Vardy who fed Mahrez 15 yards out. With a deft piece of skill, Mahrez sold a dummy and nutmegged Wollscheid in one move and the cross-cum-shot was netted by a grateful Ulloa, another badly in need of a goal.
Opinion was divided if it was a ‘flip-flap’, an ‘elastico’ or a regulation nutmeg, but it was glorious.
The sea of smiling faces on the walk back to car after the game summed up perfectly the mood of the city and things would only get better as the weekend progressed. Ranieri’s beautiful use of the English language was again demonstrated in his post-match comments.
On Vardy’s first goal in seven games the Italian said: “Jamie I tell every day it is not important, although I know goals for the strikers is important and maybe now he has more confidence, and when I speak with him I say it is important you continue to work hard because you are the main man and if you start to press then everyone follows. Then sooner or later you score a goal, I tell him this. You have to work and make it happen and then the goal will arrive.”
Ranieri recognised that City are in a privileged position with no further involvement in any cup competitions. “Now the players will have three days off, to clear the minds. And when they come back we restart to work hard because the league for us is very exciting. We made a fantastic performance and I am very pleased with my players.”
With their rivals slipping up, City finished the weekend in first place, three points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester City. With no cups to act as distractions, minimum injury worries and generous owners, surely there will never be a better chance for City to go and do something special?
Leicester: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez, Kanté, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Gray 88), Okazaki (Ulloa 62), Vardy. Subs Not Used: Schwarzer, Wasilewski, Inler, King, Dyer.
Stoke: Butland, Johnson, Pieters, Shawcross (Wilson 30), Wollscheid, Whelan, Afellay, Diouf (Odemwingie 71), Shaqiri (Crouch 79), Joselu, Walters. Subs Not Used: Van Ginkel, Adam, Bojan, Haugaard.
Referee: M Dean. Attendance: 32,018.
WORDS: Rob Coe. PHOTOS: Simon Kimber.
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