LEICESTER, April 18 – Claudio Ranieri claims Leicester’s dramatic escape in their 2-2 draw against West Ham has bolstered his players’ belief they are set to become Premier League champions.
Ranieri’s side were seconds away from a damaging defeat at the King Power Stadium on Sunday after late goals from Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell put West Ham ahead following Leicester striker Jamie Vardy’s dismissal for diving.
It was the kind of predicament that would have finished off a less spirited team, but the Foxes refused to surrender and won a dubious penalty deep into stoppage-time when referee Jonathan Moss ruled Carroll had tripped Jeffrey Schlupp.
Leonardo Ulloa stepped up to slam home the penalty to leave Leicester eight points clear of second placed Tottenham.
Although Tottenham can close the gap to five points with a win at Stoke on Monday and Vardy will be suspended for next Sunday’s game against Swansea, Ranieri refused to dwell on the negatives and saluted the never-say-die spirit of his players.
“I’m so proud. I always ask our players to give their soul and heart until the end and that’s what they did,” Ranieri said.
“When we conceded the second goal my players still wanted to draw. Unbelievable, fantastic.
“Always I believe we could fight back. We showed this season everything is possible.
“Psychologically it’s fantastic. It’s more important than one point.”
Moss’s performance infuriated Leicester’s fans, who booed him off even after his generous late penalty decision saved their team, but Ranieri refused to join the chorus of disapproval.
The Leicester boss insisted criticising officials was pointless, although he might also have realised his defenders had got away with several blocks and tugs in the penalty area before Moss decided captain Wes Morgan’s shove on Winston Reid was worthy of the penalty converted by Carroll.
“I don’t want to tell you my feeling. Never in my life have I spoken about referees,” Ranieri said.
“From the bench it is very hard to see if it was a sending off or a penalty.
“If I say something what changes? It is 2-2. Nothing changes. That is my philosophy.”
– Petulant –
In truth, Vardy could have few complaints about his second booking for slyly trying to win a penalty by running into Angelo Ogbonna and then throwing himself to the turf.
But pressed on suggestions Vardy swore at Moss after the dismissal in a petulant display that could see his ban extended by the Football Association, Ranieri protested the England forward’s innocence.
“Jamie never dives, he goes very fast and at his speed if you touch a little…” he said.
“You (the media) saw the situation better than me. I want to stay calm.
“I’m very sad, not because of the sending off but because he can’t play the next match.”
A Tottenham victory on Monday would put Leicester under pressure for the first time since they opened up a substantial lead at the top and, with Vardy banned, they could be vulnerable against Swansea.
But Ranieri insisted there was no reason to panic because his team have already achieved so much during their incredible campaign.
“We were worried at the beginning of the season to reach 40 points. Now we enjoy,” he added.
“I never speak to the players about the gap. Everything is in our hands.
“If the other teams are better than us and win the title, well done to them, because we are playing at our maximum.”
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic took a harsher view of Moss after the referee’s last-gasp penalty decision put a major dent in the visitors’ hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
“Of course it’s not a penalty. What happened makes us feel very frustrated. That puts a shadow on one hell of a game,” he said.
“It is easy to say the ref shouldn’t get influenced by fans but it is real life.”