Leicester returned to the top of the Premier League but not in the way they might have imagined against the team at the opposite end of the table and seemingly certain to be playing in the Championship next season. Shinji Okazaki had given Claudio Ranieri’s side the lead in a first half in which they also missed a penalty but ended the match relieved to have held on to the point that takes them above Manchester City.
Villa played with such spirit and determination that Leicester were pinned in their own territory for much of the second half. So when the equaliser came from substitute Rudy Gestede with 15 minutes left it was no more than the home side deserved, not least because they had strong claims for a penalty turned down by referee Roger East.
The wind in Villa’s sails was so strong by this time that had they scored again it would not have come as a surprise. As it was, Leicester denied them any further chances and lead the pack again at least until Arsenal play this afternoon. As for Villa, history says that they will be relegated with so few points at this stage but Rémi Garde at last seems to have found a way to make them fight.
Coming in off the win over Crystal Palace that ended 248 days without a Villa home victory, Libor Kozak probably should have given Villa a 20th-minute lead when he intercepted Robert Huth’s poorly struck attempt to find Kasper Schmeichel with a back pass, but the goalkeeper kept out his shot, and Wes Morgan was there tocomplete the clearance.
That apart, much of the action had come at the other end, where Jamie Vardy looked to be regaining his sharpness after his recent surgery. Marc Albrighton’s free-kick created Leicester’s first chance, headed narrowly wide by Vardy after 13 minutes, and it was his flick that sent Vardy clear moments later. The Leicester forward, looking for his first goal in six matches, was brought down outside the area by goalkeeper Mark Bunn, who gambled that he would be shown a yellow card and not red. He was.
Leicester’s breakthrough came after Vardy had again gone close. Bunn came off his line just enough to offer Vardy the chance to lob. He scrambled back well to keep the ball out but Okazaki (pictured) was quickest to the loose ball. Bunn beat out the Japanese forward’s follow-up but the ball had already crossed the line.
Had Bunn not kept out Riyad Mahrez’s 32nd-minute penalty, awarded a little harshly when Ally Cissokho inadvertently handled the Algerian’s shot, Villa could have been down and out.
The controversial moment in which Villa thought they should have had a penalty came early in the second half. Huth tried to prevent a cross reaching Kozak but in doing so felled the Czech with his left arm. Villa looked to have a good case, but referee East saw nothing wrong.
Leicester looked content to wait for the chance to hit Villa on the break and were made to pay as Villa’s pressure brought them an equaliser with 15 minutes to play. Gestede, on for Carles Gil, typified Villa’s determination to reap some reward and his will to outmuscle Huth for possession gave him the chance to shoot, the ball beating Schmeichel with the aid of a deflection off Morgan.
Aston Villa: (4-3-3) Bunn; Bacuna, Okore, Lescott, Cissokho; Veretout, Gana, Westwood; Gil (Gestede, 67), Kozak, Ayew (Sinclair, 90).
Leicester: (4-4-2) Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (Ulloa, 69), Drinkwater, Kanté, Albrighton (Gray, 85); Okazaki (de Laet, 59), Vardy.
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the match: Gestede
Match rating: 7/10