UNITED KINGDOM, April 10 – Jamie Vardy’s second-half double helped Leicester City go 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League as they enjoyed a hard-fought 2-0 win away to Sunderland on Sunday.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are closing in on the English title after a fifth consecutive win put the pressure back on second-placed Tottenham Hotspur ahead of their home game against Manchester United later in the day.
But regardless of what the chasing pack do, Leicester will be crowned champions for the first time in their history if they win three of their remaining five league games.
Leicester struggled to impose themselves on the relegation-threatened Black Cats, who deserved reward for their efforts, but remain third from bottom and four points from safety after a tense encounter at the Stadium of Light.
Vardy broke the deadlock in the 66th minute, sprinting onto a long, lofted through ball from Danny Drinkwater to outpace his marker Younes Kaboul before finding the bottom corner from a narrow angle past keeper Vito Mannone.
The England striker sealed the win in stoppage time, taking a pass from substitute Demarai Gray to run beyond Sunderland’s trailing defence before rounding Mannone to roll the ball into an empty net.
Vardy now has 21 Premier League goals this season after hitting the net from open play for the first time in more than two months.
The outcome also prolonged, albeit probably briefly, Aston Villa’s ever-present membership of the Premier League as the West Midlands club, currently cut adrift at the bottom of the table, would have had their seemingly inevitable relegation sealed in the event of a Sunderland win.
The benefits of a settled side were highlighted by unchanged Leicester fielding eight players who started the 4-2 opening day of the season win over Sunderland, while the north-east side, who also have a new manager in Sam Allardyce since they last met the Foxes, had just four survivors from their August defeat at the King Power Stadium.
Just 11 months ago, Leicester celebrated clinching Premier League survival with a goalless draw at the Stadium of Light in the penultimate game of the campaign, but they held far more lofty ambitions on their return.
They struggled to impress in an even first half, which was well into stoppage time before either goalkeeper was troubled for the first time, Kasper Schmeichel saving well with his legs when a Fabio Borini shot was deflected goalwards by Leicester skipper Wes Morgan.
– Penalty claims –
Both teams had penalty appeals turned down in the first half.
Leicester were the first to see their claims go unrewarded when Shinji Okazaki went down rather too theatrically under a challenge from DeAndre Yedlin as the pair tussled for Marc Albrighton’s lofted ball into the area.
Robert Huth used his hand to prevent a low centre from Sunderland defender Patrick van Aanholt reaching Jermain Defoe, but again referee Anthony Taylor was unmoved.
Borini also fired narrowly over the angle of post and bar from a deflected Defoe cross as Sunderland started strongly in the second half while, at the other end, Okazaki shot just over from 15 yards after a neat passing interchange with N’Golo Kante.
A stalemate appeared to beckon, but Sunderland momentarily switched off with devastating consequences to their hopes of pulling off a fourth consecutive escape from relegation.
Drinkwater beat Lee Cattermole midway inside the Leicester half to release Vardy, and he kept his cool to find the bottom corner after leaving Kaboul trailing.
Sunderland substitute Jack Rodwell wasted a glorious late opening, the England international firing fractionally too high when a deflected van Aanholt shot fell invitingly for the midfielder.
As they went in search of an equaliser, Sunderland left gaps at the back and eventually paid the price when Vardy broke clear, with the final result making it more than eight hours since Leicester last conceded a goal.