Le­ices­ter hon­our Vichai with vic­tory on day of kin­ship at Cardiff

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - NICK AMES

AS the clock reached 60 min­utes, Le­ices­ter City’s sup­port­ers held their scarves aloft as one and be­gan a ren­di­tion of the club an­them, ‘When you’re smil­ing’.

They had been able to do just that five min­utes pre­vi­ously when De­marai Gray, clip­ping in a deft half-vol­ley be­fore em­bark­ing upon an emo­tional cel­e­bra­tion with all 10 of his team-mates, adorned a per­for­mance of re­mark­able col­lec­tive will with the win­ning goal. But the tim­ing of the goal was mere co­in­ci­dence.

The song had been timed to mark the age of Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha, so trag­i­cally taken a week ago, and was one of the many touch­ing episodes dur­ing a dif­fi­cult yet uplift­ing af­ter­noon where the over­rid­ing sen­ti­ment was one of in­tense love for a man who trans­formed his club in the most thrilling of ways. The day was only ever go­ing to be about Le­ices­ter but there was still a re­spon­si­bil­ity on their hosts, who could never have ex­pected to stage an event clouded by such a ghastly pall. Cardiff met the task with grace, rev­er­ence and class.

In­side the match-day pro­gramme a ded­i­ca­tion from the Blue­birds’ owner, Vin­cent Tan, CEO Ken Choo and chair­man Mehmet Dal­man de­scribed Sri­vad­dhanaprabha as “a true pi­o­neer and vi­sion­ary whose legacy will live for ever”; a num­ber of their fans gath­ered to ap­plaud the Le­ices­ter squad as they ar­rived and the lo­cals were gen­er­ous with their ac­claim, too, as they warmed up an hour later. The tone, on a foot­ball level and be­yond, was one of kin­ship.

As Le­ices­ter went through their drills, wear­ing T-shirts bear­ing Sri­vad­dhanaprabha’s face and the mes­sage “Khun Vichai, you will be for­ever in our hearts”, it was out­wardly busi­ness as usual. Yet the sight of their en­tire trav­el­ling party — start­ing XI, sub­sti­tutes and staff — lin­ing up around the cen­tre cir­cle for a minute’s si­lence told of how the past week has shaken an in­sti­tu­tion to its core and no­body could be sur­prised if one or two needed help­ing through.

Kasper Sch­me­ichel em­braced ev­ery one of his team-mates as they pre­pared to pay their re­spects, stop­ping for a telling ex­tra few sec­onds with the cap­tain, Wes Mor­gan. It was Mor­gan who ad­dressed ev­ery­one, a group num­ber­ing around 40, once the 60 sec­onds had passed. “The chair­man would want us to go out there and give our best,” he had told broad­cast­ers ear­lier.

Le­ices­ter did ex­actly that al­though, for all the sin­cer­ity in their sen­ti­ments, Cardiff were not about to be ac­com­mo­dat­ing on the pitch. Neil Warnock and his play­ers had made lit­tle men­tion of their own re­quire­ments but will have tar­geted this game as three points to­wards safety at the sea­son’s out­set.

Off they went at their usual brisk tempo, com­ing close when Harry Maguire blocked an ef­fort from Bobby Reid. Maguire looked shaky and was later re­placed af­ter sus­tain­ing an in­jury when chas­ing Cal­lum Pater­son; Le­ices­ter’s dis­com­fort con­tin­ued and Vic­tor Ca­ma­rasa came within a cross­bar’s width of putting Cardiff ahead with a free-kick that left Sch­me­ichel rooted.

Le­ices­ter should have won a penalty be­fore half-time when Jamie Vardy, re­act­ing af­ter Neil Etheridge had fum­bled Ri­cardo Pereira’s daisy cut­ter, jabbed to­wards goal but saw the arm of Sol Bamba de­flect the ball on to the bar. Lee Probert saw no of­fence; the in­ci­dent had hap­pened at high speed but the Le­ices­ter play­ers’ re­ac­tion said enough.

It also told of their de­sire to win this one for Sri­vad­dhanaprabha. That trans­lated into a roar­ing start to the sec­ond half, which saw Gray back­heel wide be­fore go­ing one bet­ter with a goal of the qual­ity that be­came the hall­mark of their late chair­man’s era. Gray tore off his shirt to re­veal an­other mes­sage in tribute to the de­parted. Probert looked suit­ably em­bar­rassed to show him a yel­low card be­fore the restart.

The emo­tions poured out again at full-time. Claude Puel, such an im­pres­sive am­bas­sador in the last seven days, had sug­gested the re­sult of this match did not mat­ter. But here the out­come felt ex­actly right.

Photo: Dar­ren Sta­ples

An emo­tional Jamie Vardy with De­marai Gray af­ter yes­ter­day’s match.

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