Cap­tain Mor­gan keeps the Foxes ti­tle dream alive

Veteran skip­per’s first goal of the sea­son puts Ranieri’s men seven points clear with just six games re­main­ing

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

The scenes at the end said it all. Leonardo Ul­loa jumped into Danny Drinkwa­ter’s arms and was lifted high. All the other Le­ices­ter City play­ers clus­tered into three joy­ful hud­dles as they cel­e­brated. Goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel strode slowly around the pitch like a tri­umphant glad­i­a­tor.

Then, above ev­ery­one else, there was match-win­ner and leader Wes Mor­gan pump­ing those black­smith arms into the air in pow­er­ful cel­e­bra­tion. Cap­tain Mor­gan did it – what a time to score his first goal of the sea­son – al­though this is far from a rum do. In­stead this is sim­ply, won­der­fully in­tox­i­cat­ing. It lifted the spir­its.

Le­ices­ter have now won each of their last four Premier League games 1-0. Four goals, four wins, four clean sheets and 12 points. Noth­ing speaks more to their iron­be­lief and sense of destiny than that se­quence which means they are now for­mi­da­bly clear of Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur at the top of the ta­ble. Twelve more points, four more wins, from their fi­nal six matches and no one can catch them. No one. And they will be cham­pi­ons for the first time in their 132-year his­tory.

This is sim­ply crazy. It does not com­pute. A year to the day since Le­ices­ter were seven points from safety as they des­per­ately fought against rel­e­ga­tion they went seven points clear at the top. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté have been the stars of their sea­son, all three bril­liant, de­served can­di­dates for player of the year, but no one should dis­count Mor­gan.

The 32-year-old cen­tral de­fender, who did not make his top-flight de­but un­til he was 30, whose ca­reer ap­peared un­likely to rise above the medi­ocre, who was re­leased as a teenager by Notts County, who re­turned to non-League football for a cou­ple of years be­fore slowly re­build­ing his ca­reer across the city at Not­ting­ham For­est, with­out re­ally im­press­ing, could – should – be lift­ing the Premier League tro­phy in the com­ing weeks.

The giant Ja­maican only ar­rived back from in­ter­na­tional duty on Fri­day, did not feel well on Satur­day, and did not know whether he would play, but man­ager Claudio Ranieri is canny. He was not go­ing to dis­rupt a win­ning team. The Le­ices­ter XI picks it­self, they are in the fin­ish­ing straight now and fa­tigue is be­ing brushed aside by be­lief with ev­ery adrenalin-fu­elled per­for­mance.

“Wes is fan­tas­tic,” Ranieri said. “He had a cold, was tired, but he is a strong man. A good ex­am­ple for ev­ery­body. When he speaks, ev­ery­one lis­tens to him. But ev­ery­body is a leader in my dress­ing room. Ev­ery­body knows what I want.” And they do. Ranieri has de­vel­oped a win­ning for­mula – “a good blend from English pas­sion and Ital­ian tac­tics,” he said – and he bril­liantly, smartly rides the warm at­mos­phere that en­velops this club.

Pre-match, there was free beer and dough­nuts for ev­ery­one from chair­man Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha to cel­e­brate his birth­day on Mon­day and the Thai bil­lion­aire re­ceived a ren­di­tion of “Happy Birth­day” from the play­ers – and Ranieri – be­fore this en­counter. That beer will have tasted flat for Southamp­ton. Ron­ald Koe­man was ful­some in his praise of Le­ices­ter and their ag­gres­sion and en­deav­our and be­came the lat­est man­ager to ex­press the hope that they would go on and win the league, but he also had a point to make by claim­ing his side should have been awarded two penal­ties.

“There were two key mo­ments in the game – and I don’t like tak­ing credit away from the Le­ices­ter per­for­mance be­cause they had two or three big chances in the sec­ond half to score a sec­ond – but we de­served two penal­ties,” Koe­man said. “The chance of [Sa­dio] Mané is hand­ball on his arm. If not, the ball goes in. He’s not turn­ing his body. He takes the risk. It’s a penalty and a red card. That makes it to­tally dif­fer­ent again. The sec­ond is the cross of Char­lie Austin [stopped by] a de­fender [Robert Huth] by hand­ball.

“I spoke to the ref­eree. I asked him to look at the clip, but it’s not al­lowed for them to do so. Maybe tonight, if he stays home with his fam­ily, he re­alises he made a big, big mis­take today.”

The first in­ci­dent cer­tainly looked like it should have been a penalty and came af­ter Mané was re­leased by Graziano Pelle on half­way, even­tu­ally round­ing Sch­me­ichel, only for his goal-bound shot to strike Danny Simp­son on the arm. Was it de­lib­er­ate? Simp­son seemed to move to­wards the ball and Ranieri ar­gued it was just part of a nat­u­ral run­ning ac­tion. Ref­eree Michael Oliver de­cided on the lat­ter – much to Koe­man’s dis­gust.

Soon af­ter­wards, Sch­me­ichel did well to claw away Jose Fonte’s fierce shot from dis­tance be­fore Jordy Clasie also went close with a ris­ing drive. Just as it ap­peared that Southamp­ton were in the as­cen­dancy, Le­ices­ter scored.

It came as Kanté and new Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Drinkwa­ter com­bined to free up Chris­tian Fuchs down the left. The full-back crossed and there was Mor­gan to steal in and send a stoop­ing header past Fraser Forster.

Un­fath­omably, Mor­gan was be­ing marked by mid­fielder Clasie – more than six inches shorter than him and al­most four stone lighter – and there was no chance he was go­ing to be stopped.

Southamp­ton camped in the Le­ices­ter half. Surely they would break through. But Mor­gan and Huth stood firm – this was meat and drink to them – and it was, even­tu­ally, Le­ices­ter creat­ing chances with Vardy full of clever, re­lent­less run­ning which was summed up as he got to the by­line and pulled the ball back to Simp­son.

With the goal beck­on­ing, he con­trived to shoot weakly back across, al­low­ing Forster to save. The Eng­land goal­keeper also, with great agility, tipped over an in­ter­cep­tion by Fonte and de­nied Vardy with his feet.

Le­ices­ter would not be de­nied. “What is choke?” Ranieri said, putting his hand across his throat be­fore mak­ing a throt­tling noise, when asked if his team would see this through. “I’m very calm… we be­lieve it is a mag­i­cal sea­son.”

Maybe, also, a one-off — won with 1-0s.

To­tal Football

Break­through: Wes Mor­gan’s header flies into the net for the only goal

Pos­si­ble penalty: Sa­dio Mane’s shot hits Danny Simp­son on the arm

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.