Leicester thwarted on day of emo­tion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - STEVE MADELEY

Leicester Burnley

ICity T was a day when Leicester City did al­most ev­ery­thing per­fectly. From the touch­ing, dig­ni­fied trib­utes to their late for­mer chair­man, to the re­spect­ful mark­ing of re­mem­brance week­end to a per­for­mance from their team of in­ven­tion and stamina, Leicester ticked al­most every box on an emo­tional af­ter­noon at the King Power Sta­dium.

All that was miss­ing was a goal to turn a mov­ing me­mo­rial to Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha into a rip-roar­ing cel­e­bra­tion of his life.

No mat­ter. Leicester’s staff, sup­port­ers and play­ers did their late owner proud in the first home game since his tragic death, even if their hopes of gild­ing the oc­ca­sion with vic­tory were frus­trated by a durable, re­silient Burnley side who fought their way to a point.

The best chances fell to Leicester — a Jamie Vardy shot cleared off the line and a Rachid Ghez­zal header kept out by the cross­bar — but this was one game in which the re­sult was sec­ondary to the chore­og­ra­phy.

The lat­est chap­ter in the remarkable tale of a club and its tragic owner fea­tured poignant im­ages, stir­ring sounds, a haunting si­lence and pop­u­lar cameos from some of its most en­dur­ing char­ac­ters.

Two weeks af­ter Sri­vad­dhanaprabha and four oth­ers died when his he­li­copter crashed out­side the sta­dium, shirts left in sol­i­dar­ity by fans of ri­vals clubs were laid down around the pitch, flo­ral trib­utes were moved closer to the crash site and a wave of sup­port­ers queued be­fore the game to add to the vast sea of me­men­tos.

More than 20,000 fans walked from the city to the ground to hon­our the man whose back­ing had helped de­liver the 2016 Premier League ti­tle, while for­mer man­agers Clau­dio Ranieri, Nigel Pear­son, Craig Shake­speare and Martin O’Neill were among those in at­ten­dance along with Aiyawatt Sri­vad­dhanaprabha, the vice-chair­man and son of the for­mer owner.

Af­ter an emo­tion­ally charged fort­night and a brief fu­neral visit to Thai­land for Leicester’s squad, a win would have been a fit­ting fi­nale, but given the men­tal and emo­tional toil, it was per­haps ask­ing a lot.

The sub­dued open­ing to the game that in­evitably fol­lowed the pre-match cer­e­monies might have ac­counted for the muted ap­peals in the eighth minute when Leicester should have been awarded a penalty.

Burnley de­fender Char­lie Taylor blocked a Marc Al­brighton cross with a fore­arm that had been extended away from his body, but ref­eree Mike Dean waved away the half-hearted com­plaints from Leicester play­ers hav­ing de­clined to point to the spot.

There was a more ex­citable at­mos­phere by the time Leicester’s next chance ar­rived on 16 min­utes as home sup­port­ers, in the throes of ac­claim­ing Ranieri and Pear­son, saw a loose ball drop to Vardy, only for the striker’s goal­bound shot to be blocked on the line by Matt Low­ton.

Chris Wood, Burnley’s for­mer Leicester striker, seemed to have read the script mo­ments later when he met a Low­ton cross but failed to con­nect prop­erly and gave Kasper Sch­me­ichel an easy save.

Rachid Ghez­zal should have sent the sta­dium into rap­tures when he met an­other teas­ing Abrighton cross but his div­ing header struck Joe Hart’s cross­bar.

When Al­brighton had a pow­er­ful shot blocked in front of goal and Hart saved smartly from De­marai Gray af­ter a slick move, an open­ing goal for Leicester seemed in­evitable.

Yet Jo­hann Berg Gud­munds­son al­most flew in the face of the pre­vail­ing mood six min­utes be­fore the in­ter­val with a curl­ing, left-footed free-kick that was head­ing for the top cor­ner be­fore Sch­me­ichel made a good save.

Four min­utes into the sec­ond half, a neat counter-at­tack from Leicester ended with Al­brighton’s shot be­ing par­ried by Hart with Vardy un­able to latch onto the re­bound.

Yet when Ben Mee’s glanc­ing header drifted just wide for Burnley and Leicester cap­tain Wes Mor­gan was booked harshly for up­end­ing Wood, Burnley ap­peared to be find­ing their feet.

As the home crowd rose to lift their scarves on 60 min­utes, a nod to Sri­vad­dhanaprabha’s age when he died, Vardy had an­other sight of goal but his ef­fort was blocked by Low­ton be­fore Jonny Evans saw a header for Leicester de­flected wide.

With 17 min­utes re­main­ing, Wood screwed a half-vol­ley just over the cross­bar as Leicester’s week of mourn­ing and trav­el­ling fi­nally looked to be taking its toll.

Leicester pushed to the end and Shinji Okazaki, a hero of the ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign, sent a stop­page time header inches wide.

It meant no fi­nal fairy­tale in mem­ory of Sri­vad­dhanaprabha but, for Leicester’s sup­port­ers, the for­mer chair­man had al­ready de­liv­ered enough.

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