BIRMINGHAM, January 16 – Aston Villa striker Rudy Gestede came off the bench to dent Leicester’s Premier League title challenge as his second half equaliser rescued a 1-1 draw for the bottom club on Saturday.
Although Leicester moved one point clear of second placed Manchester City, Claudio Ranieri’s side left Villa Park frustrated their lead wasn’t more significant after Gestede’s first goal since September cancelled out a first half opener from Japan striker Shinji Okazaki.
The Foxes should have been out of sight by the time Gestede equalised and they paid the price for a series of misses, with Riyad Mahrez especially culpable after his first half penalty was saved by Mark Bunn.
Third placed Arsenal can regain pole position if they draw or win at Stoke on Sunday.
This was another encouraging performance for Villa after a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in midweek gave Remi Garde his first three points as Villa boss and secured their first league victory since the opening day of the season.
But Garde’s team need points rather than plaudits and they remain rooted to the bottom of the table, with a nine-point gap to make up if they are avoid dropping into the second tier for the first time since 1988.
Robert Huth had been Leicester’s match-winner at Tottenham in midweek, but the German defender almost gifted Villa the opening goal when his miscued clearance allowed Libor Kozak to surge clear for a low shot that Kasper Schmeichel saved at his near post.
That was far from Schmeichel’s only significant contribution as his booming kick downfield helped the visitors take the lead in the 28th minute.
Jamie Vardy alertly peeled away from Villa’s dozing defence to meet the long ball with a superb lob that caught Bunn off his line.
Bunn managed to make an acrobatic back pedalling save, but Okazaki followed up to slot home from close-range despite the goalkeeper’s attempt to keep it out, with goalline technology confirming the ball had crossed for his fourth league goal of the season.
– Fortuitous –
Ranieri’s side had a golden opportunity to double their lead four minutes later when a flowing move cut through the Villa defence and ended with a penalty after Mahrez’s shot was blocked by the sliding Aly Cissokho’s raised arm.
Despite missing from the spot earlier this month Mahrez took the penalty himself, but the Algeria winger’s slightly too casual strike down the middle was close to Bunn and the Villa goalkeeper made the save.
Cissokho tested Schmeichel with a stinging shot early in the second half before Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s dipping long-range effort drew a fine tip over from Bunn.
Villa appealed in vain for a penalty when Huth swung an arm into Kozak’s face, while Drinkwater threatened again when he flicked wide from Vardy’s cross.
There was more menace about Villa’s attacks now and Garde sent on Gestede in the 67th minute to add further thrust to the forward line.
The switch paid rich dividends eight minutes later when Gestede equalised in fortuitous circumstances.
First he got away with the ball bouncing off his arm and then benefitted from a Huth clearance that hit him in the groin.
Those two lucky breaks presented the Benin striker with the opportunity for a shot that deflected off West Morgan and past Schmeichel.