Ulloa rescues vital point for Leicester in chaotic contest
Everyone wondered whether they would crack when the pressure was on. But then everyone was wondering about Leicester City. Not about the match officials.
This was a tough day for the champions-elect, an uncompromising and chaotic contest against a West Ham side who have pooped more parties than anyone else this season with big away wins against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and were in no mood to compromise.
But this was an even tougher day for referee Jonathan Moss, who sent off Jamie Vardy for two yellow cards – and neither caution was clear-cut – putting a dampener on the striker’s own party which could get even worse if the official includes any suggestion of verbal abuse from the England international in his match report. Vardy could face a Football Association charge and more than a one-match ban, which would have significant ramifications given how vital he is to the Leicester cause.
Moss also awarded two penalties – neither of which was indisputable although, to be honest, there was an element of chickens coming home to roost with the West Ham award, in particular. There is more grappling from Robert Huth and Wes Morgan in the Leicester penalty area at every corner and freekick than in a team-tag catch-all contest, and eventually, it seemed, Moss had had enough.
After the controversy of referee Kevin Friend being taken off Tottenham Hotspur’s away game against Stoke City tonight because he lives in Leicester, both Leicester and West Ham fans will be scouring the internet to discover Sunderlandborn, Yorkshire-based Moss’s history. But there was no bias. He was consistent in his inconsistencies.
“Is that ref on drugs?” was the intemperate tweet of Peter Schmeichel – the father of Leicester goalkeeper Kasper, of course – and there was a general and shared sense of injustice at Moss’s performance yesterday.
Everyone felt aggrieved – Leicester will, in turn, point to the grappling of Angelo Ogbonna on their players inside the West Ham area – which was the only consola- tion. The irony of it all is that a 2-2 draw was a fair result even if it was achieved unsatisfactorily.
By the time, in the 94th minute, that Moss was pointing to the spot after a “coming together”, which appeared a shoulder challenge involving substitutes Jeffrey Schlupp and Andy Carroll, he was reduced to the horrible, out-of-control reality of trying to even things up. Leonardo Ulloa drove home the penalty that proved to be the last kick of the match to salvage a point for Leicester.
Such has been the sense of unbridled euphoria and joy around the King Power Stadium this season that it was a shock to see it descend, for a while, into cat-calling, recrimination, abuse and anger as the home supporters struggled to com- prehend what was unfolding before them. But that is not a criticism. It is what sometimes happens at the sharp end when it comes to winning titles.
In the cold light of day, this point may prove absolutely crucial in the Premier League title race. It felt like three dropped for Leicester, then one saved, and they now lead Spurs by eight points. Spurs have to beat Stoke tonight; nothing else will really do. Even then five points behind with four games left will still take some work, some shocks, even more controversy, along the way to over-turn.
We had that here, though. There was so much going on both on and off the ball and as hard-fought a draw as this was for West Ham it also, pretty much, ended their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
“The game went like crazy,” said Slaven Bilic, the West Ham manager and he was not wrong. This was the Premier League at its bonkers best and it was crazy from the opening minutes when Schmeichel – Kasper not Peter – pulled off an astonishing save to tip Cheikhou Kouyaté’s header on to a post. Even then the ball ran across the goalline, kissed the other post before Emmanuel Emenike should have turned it home.
Then Leicester scored. It was a classic Leicester goal. There was also another touch of cynicism as Huth took out Winston Reid at a West Ham corner and Schmeichel quickly bowled the ball out to Riyad Mahrez who found N’Golo Kanté who picked out Vardy. And we know the rest. Vardy drove the ball across Adrián for his 22nd league goal of this incredible season.
Into the second half and Vardy was away again, scampering into the area as Ogbonna challenged him. There was a tangle of legs and Vardy hit the turf. At this point Moss deemed it a dive, not a penalty, and Vardy was shown a second yellow card. He had pushed his leg across Ogbonna and here opinions differ. Vardy was off, though, having been cautioned in the first half for catching Kouyaté with a sliding tackle. Even that seemed a soft caution.
The fury rose. Leicester fans were apoplectic and it boiled over at another corner with Moss deeming Morgan to have hauled back Reid, who had already struck a post with an acrobatic flick, and who went to ground. But there was so much going on inside the area that it seemed the official snapped. He had, in fairness, already warned the players and Carroll waited before driving the penalty low into the corner of the net.
Leicester were stunned; then shocked. Michail Antonio worked his way down the right and crossed with the ball skimming off Danny Simpson’s head and running to Aaron Cresswell, who took a touch and sent a clever, angled half-volley back across Schmeichel and high into the goal.
How would 10-man Leicester react? The right way. They threw everything at West Ham and screamed for a penalty when Ogbonna, again, tussled with Huth before Schlupp ran into the area and Carroll stepped across to cover.
Schlupp went down and Moss pointed, again, to the spot. Leicester had their point. It could prove to be so vital.
There was so much going on in the penalty area that it seemed referee Moss snapped