Ul­loa res­cues vi­tal point for Le­ices­ter in chaotic con­test

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - PREMIER LEAGUE - Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at the King Power Sta­dium

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

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