Substitute Leonardo Ulloa scored an 89th-minute winner as Leicester City breathed fresh life into their improbable Premier League title challenge by edging Norwich City 1-0 yesterday.
Two weeks on from a last-gasp 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, Leicester were on course to drop points again until Ulloa tapped in at the death to send Claudio Ranieri’s side five points clear at the summit.
The Argentine’s goal, only his third of the season, puts the pressure on Leicester’s closest rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, who host Swansea City and visit Manchester United respectively today.
“It was a difficult match,” Ranieri told the BBC. “Norwich played well and closed the space, but we believed until the end. This victory was very important to restart after the Arsenal defeat. The conclusion I have drawn from this is that my players believe until the end. That, for me, is very important.”
Norwich’s approach at the King Power Stadium gave Leicester an indication of the puzzles likely to await them over the final 11 matches of a dizzying campaign.
Alex Neil’s visitors lined up with a back three and sat deep, forcing Leicester, who had previously averaged just 44 percent of possession in their home league games, to take the initiative.
Marc Albrighton went close for Leicester with a free-kick from wide on the left, but the best chance of the first half fell to Norwich’s Cameron Jerome, who headed inches wide from Robbie Brady’s corner.
Encouraged by Riyad Mahrez, Leicester took hold of the game in the second period, with visiting goalkeeper John Ruddy saving from Jamie Vardy and Albrighton.
Nathan Redmond went close to snatching victory for Norwich when he flashed a shot wide, but the hosts had the last word when Ulloa ghosted in at the back post to apply the finishing touch to Albrighton’s right-wing cross.
Meanwhile, Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea extended their unbeaten run to 11 league games in a 2-1 comeback victory at in-form Southampton, who had won five and drawn one of their previous six league matches.
Southampton took a 42nd-minute lead when Shane Long intercepted Baba Rahman’s header and ran into the box before coolly dinking a shot past Thibaut Courtois.
Home goalkeeper Fraser Forster established a new Southampton top-flight record of 708 minutes without conceding a goal, but he was finally beaten in the 75th minute when he allowed Cesc Fabregas’s cross to go past him.
Stand-in captain Branislav Ivanovic headed in an 89th-minute winner from Willian’s corner, lifting Chelsea—who lost Pedro Rodriguez to an early hamstring problem—one place to 11th.
“I think it was a deserved win for us,” said Chelsea interim manager Hiddink. “They haven’t conceded in the last six, seven games, so it was successful for us.
“We had a setback when we went 1-0 down. It was a present from our defence, but we did very well in the second half. We were well organised and then got the goals.”
The result prevented Southampton from keeping pace with West Ham United, who had moved into fifth place earlier in the day by beating second-bottom Sunderland 1-0.
Michail Antonio settled the game in the 30th by scuttling infield from the right and curling home left-footed, allowing Slaven Bilic’s men to supplant Manchester United in the Europa League berth.
West Ham are now just four points below fourth-place Manchester City, who tackle Liverpool in today’s League Cup final, with United two points behind them and Southampton a point further back.
Marko Arnautovic scored twice as Stoke City won 2-1 at home to bottom club Aston Villa, who replied through Leandro Bacuna, while Watford and Bournemouth drew 0-0 at Vicarage Road.
In the day’s late game, West Bromwich Albion were hosting Crystal Palace.
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