Who needs Vardy? Foxes make light of striker’s ban

Le­ices­ter City 4-0 Swansea City

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

Mahrez helps ex­tend ti­tle lead be­fore pick­ing up PFA Player of the Year award

A team from Le­ices­ter Univer­sity have been record­ing seis­mic ac­tiv­ity in­side the King Power Sta­dium all sea­son, but yes­ter­day it was a cy­clone rather than an earth­quake they de­tected.

El Ci­clon – The Cy­clone – was the nickname for Leonardo Ul­loa from his time in Spain and the 29-yearold Ar­gen­tine striker blew away an ad­mit­tedly pow­der-puff Swansea City side who looked not just on the beach but play­ing as if wear­ing flipflops as well.

If Swansea, safe from rel­e­ga­tion, per­formed as if they had noth­ing to play for, then Le­ices­ter re­acted to this fix­ture as if their lives de­pended on it. “We are fear­less” read the ban­ner draped over the home sup­port­ers prior to kick-off and the play­ers put in a per­for­mance to jus­tify those sen­ti­ments.

It helped that there was such a wall of noise ring­ing around this sta­dium, which swept away any nerves and lin­ger­ing anger over last Sun­day’s draw against West Ham United and Jamie Vardy be­ing sus­pended, as well as doubts brought about by Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur clos­ing in.

This was the first time that Le­ices­ter had taken to the pitch in a league match with­out their talismanic striker since March last year. Vardy watched from an ex­ec­u­tive box as he serves the first of what could turn out to be a two-game sus­pen­sion. Le­ices­ter coped ad­mirably with­out him.

This em­phatic vic­tory means they need just five points from their fi­nal three matches – away to Manch­ester United, at home to Ever­ton, away to Chelsea – to en­sure they will win the first league ti­tle in their 132-year his­tory.

But it might not even come to that. Spurs are at home to West Bromwich Al­bion tonight – a match they should win – but, trail­ing the lead­ers by eight points, Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s men have no mar­gin for er­ror as they des­per­ately try to catch Clau­dio Ranieri’s side.

The Ital­ian had de­liv­ered his ral­ly­ing cry and fi­nally de­clared that Le­ices­ter were go­ing for the ti­tle af­ter the pre­vi­ous week­end’s draw against West Ham United and Vardy’s red card. “Dilly-ding, dil­ly­dong”, Ranieri’s bizarre re­ac­tion in a press con­fer­ence last week to the club achiev­ing Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball next sea­son, will be­come a phrase of leg­end and count­less T-shirts – and here was the wake-up call af­ter the alarm bells. A wake-up call fol­lowed by a wave of emotion. “We play with our heart and it’s dif­fi­cult to beat those who play with their heart and soul,” Ranieri said af­ter­wards.

It was af­ter a late win­ning goal by Ul­loa, in the last minute against Nor­wich City, in Fe­bru­ary that it emerged a seis­mome­ter in­stalled in a school close to the sta­dium had On the march: Leonardo Ul­loa pow­ers in a header for Le­ices­ter’s sec­ond goal de­tected “sud­den en­ergy re­lease” – a mi­nor quake with a mag­ni­tude of 0.3 – from City fans when the ball had hit the net.

That win also fu­elled be­lief. It grabbed the at­ten­tion of the rest of the league. There was even a so­cial me­dia ac­count set up – @VardyQuake – to give up­dates of when the earth moved again. It more than likely shifted once more with Ul­loa’s last-minute penalty against West Ham, which earned a pre­cious point eight days ago. He took his chances here, too.

How would Le­ices­ter cope with­out Vardy? Would the Tinker­man tin­ker? Rightly, Ranieri de­cided not to. Too much vari­a­tion would have led to doubt. In­stead, Le­ices­ter re­tained their 4-4-2 for­ma­tion, with Ul­loa in for Vardy and Jef­frey Schlupp re­plac­ing Marc Al­brighton, who has ap­peared tired of late. Both were out­stand­ing.

It helped that Swansea self­de­struc­ted, con­ced­ing a com­i­cal goal af­ter just 10 min­utes when Ash­ley Wil­liams care­lessly tried to sweep the ball from the edge of his own penalty area out to Neil Tay­lor but only man­aged to find Riyad Mahrez. Even then, Mahrez had to bring the ball down, Wil­liams stood off and the Al­ge­rian calmly steered it in­side Lukasz Fabi­an­ski’s near post.

It was all the more painful for Wil­liams in that he had his­tory with Mahrez. The pair clashed af­ter the meet­ing be­tween the sides ear­lier in the sea­son, when Le­ices­ter had brushed Swansea aside, cour­tesy of a Mahrez hat-trick. Here was an­other goal; an­other gift.

There was then an­other blun­der. Wil­liams was in­volved again as he failed to deal with Ul­loa, who was first to an in­swing­ing Danny Drinkwa­ter free-kick and pow­ered his header in at the near post.

Le­ices­ter did not re­lent. There was a de­ter­mined break from Schlupp, who beat Àn­gel Ran­gel to a clear­ance down the left and proved too quick for the cov­er­ing Fed­erico Fernán­dez. Sud­denly through on goal, Schlupp broke through Wil­liams’s des­per­ate lunge and prod­ded the ball across goal, where Ul­loa slid in to turn it home.

The striker de­parted to a stand­ing ova­tion – the only con­cern was he ap­peared to have hurt his back – but still Le­ices­ter pressed, with three sub­sti­tutes com­bin­ing. De­marai Gray ran from deep, brush­ing past two fee­ble chal­lenges and cross­ing to Andy King, who headed the ball back to him. Gray’s first­time shot was beaten out by Fabi­an­ski but only to Al­brighton, who drilled the ball high into the net.

Cue an­other spike in that seis­mome­ter.

In the stands: Jamie Vardy looks on

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