Leicester Go Back to League Summit as Title Dream Refuses to Fade

Published: 24th January 2016 08:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th January 2016 08:22 AM   |  A+A-

leicester vs stoke city_AP

Leicester’s Wes Morgan, rear, holds back Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Stoke City at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England.

LONDON: Claudio Ranieri insisted last week that Leicester City wanted to "frighten" the Premier League and this was another chilling message for their title rivals.

Leicester's fairytale season is on course to be rewarded with a European tour after a convincing victory lifted them back to the summit, cranking up the pressure on Arsenal.

"We're going to win the league" chanted their supporters towards the end of another uplifting afternoon, after another three points extended the feel-good factor. Like uninvited guests at a private members' party, they are simply refusing to go away.

Stoke were dreadful, with minds on their Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday, and manager Mark Hughes will probably have peeled the paint off the dressing room walls at the final whistle.

However, this was further proof that Leicester's captivating campaign remains full of life, despite all those killjoys seemingly waiting for the bubble to burst. It was only their second win in six league games but enough to take them ten points above Manchester United in fifth place - Ranieri and his players would be well advised to make sure their passports are up to date.

He said: "It was very important to be top of the league at the end of January because now comes a tough February with games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. It is unbelievable but it's good, we are ready to fight.

A top-four finish should be Leicester's minimum target if they can keep producing performances like this. Ranieri is struggling to keep a lid on rising expectations but the longer the season goes on, the more belief flows around the King Power Stadium.

Stoke have frequently thrived on putting noses out of joint but never looked capable of upsetting the odds here, with the departure of skipper Ryan Shawcross with a back injury after 30 minutes. And it was Shawcross's replacement, Marc Wilson, who was inadvertently responsible for Leicester's opening goal before half-time.

Marc Albrighton's corner was headed clear by Philipp Wollscheid to Danny Drinkwater on the edge of the area and his drive took a huge deflection off Wilson to leave Butland with no chance. It was his first goal since April 2014.

Hughes was fidgeting anxiously in his seat during the second half, struggling to comprehend such an uninspired performance.

It was not until the 61st minute that Stoke carved out their first chance and Joselu should have done better, heading straight at Kasper Schmeichel.

But Leicester sealed their 13th league win of the season in the 66th minute with Vardy's first goal since the victory over Chelsea in December, which ushered Jose Mourinho to the exit.

Drinkwater's sublime pass released the striker, with Wilson hesitant, and he rounded Butland before sliding the ball into the net.

The best goal was saved for last, with Riyad Mahrez bamboozling Philipp Wollscheid with a "flip-flap" before substitute Leonardo Ulloa poked the ball over the line from close range. "We are staying up", was the refrain from the Leicester fans - but those ambitions are considerably more lofty now.

Hughes, meanwhile, offered a brutally honest assessment of his own team's performance. "It was one of those days to forget and it was very disappointing," he said. "I'd like to think the semi-final wasn't on their minds but maybe subconsciously it was. They shouldn't have done because our focus was on the game today. We have a huge game on Tuesday and I back my team to bounce back."

Leicester City (4-4-1-1) Schmeichel 7; Simpson 7, Morgan 7, Huth 8, Fuchs 8; Mahrez 7, Kante 8, Drinkwater 8, Albrighton 6 (Gray 88); Okazaki 7 (Ulloa 62 7); Vardy 7. Subs Schwarzer (g), King, Dyer, Wasilewski, Inler.

Stoke City (4-2-3-1) Butland 6; Johnson 5, Shawcross 6 (Wilson 29 4), Wollscheid 6, Pieters 4; Whelan 5, Afellay 6; Walters 5, Shaqiri 4 (Crouch 79), Diouf 5 (Odemwingie 71); Joselu 4. Subs Haugaard (g), Van Ginkel, Adam, Bojan. Booked: Shaqiri.

Referee M Dean (Cheshire).

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