Claudio Ranieri treated his Leicester players to lunch at a pizzeria on Thursday. They might be looking forward to a different kind of continental fare if they maintain their outstanding form as their third win in four matches lifted them to third place in the League, three points behind leaders Manchester City.
“We’re all going on a European tour” was the cry from the away fans in the Smethwick End as their team overturned a 1-0 half-time deficit through two Riyahd Mahrez goals and Jamie Vardy’s 11th strike of a stunning season.
It was here at the Hawthorns in April that Leicester won 3-2 with a last-minute Vardy strike to spark last season’s survival act under Nigel Pearson and it was Vardy again who capped this thrilling victory by bursting through on a one-two with Danny Drinkwater with 13 minutes remaining. As he accelerated away from Jonny Evans in a sprint from the centre circle there was absolutely no doubt what would happen next and he duly whacked the ball past Boaz Myhill and into the far corner.
With it he had scored for eight successive top-flight games – a scoring streak achieved by Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge in 2013-14 and only bettered in the Premier League era by Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy. To be spoken of in the same breath as the latter is some feat for the former Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town player and begs the question how far the 28-year-old England forward can go.
“He came from the non-league and for him it is not too late to get to a high, high level,” said Ranieri, his delighted manager. “Jamie is a very good player who works hard for the team. He’s in a great condition now and everything he does comes good.”
Vardy had been a threat from the opening minutes when he turned Evans inside out and struck the inside of the post, with the ball spinning across the goalline and past the far post. He was close again soon after the restart when flicking a cross inches past the back post with a cute touch of his heel. “Vardy is a handful, he is on fire at the moment and he caused us problems all afternoon,” admitted Tony Pulis, the Albion manager.
It was not only Vardy. Leicester’s wingers Marc Albrighton and Mahrez caught the eye with their confidence on the ball and supply of dangerous crosses in the first period, even if it was Albion’s dead-ball threat which yielded the first goal on the half-hour as Salomon Rondon met Stéphane Sessègnon’s corner with a powerful near-post header.
Yet this Leicester team have now taken 10 points from losing positions this season and Ranieri’s half-time instruction was to “carry on playing this way because sooner or later you will score”. So it proved as Mahrez ghosted in behind Chris Brunt to volley in Albrighton’s deep cross from the edge of the six-yard box after 57 minutes. Seven minutes later Albrighton picked the ball up on the other flank and his deflected cross looped over to Mahrez who volleyed in again to take his tally for the season to eight. “I believe everything is possible with this team,” added Ranieri. “I am a very lucky man to have come here.” If the Tinkerman has become the lucky man, Pulis’s luck was out.
There was a strong suspicion of offside about Mahrez’s second goal and Pulis also lamented referee Anthony Taylor’s failure to award a penalty when Robert Huth crashed into the back Darren Fletcher at 1-1, with some justification.
His team did get a spot-kick with six minutes remaining when Callum McManaman went down under a challenge by Nathan Dyer. Rickie Lambert tucked away his first Albion goal to spark an exciting finish and nearly grabbed an equaliser but was foiled by Schmeichel at the far post in the dying moments.
West Brom (4-4-1-1): Myhill; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Brunt (McManaman, 82); Sessègnon, Fletcher, Yacob (Morrison, 76), McClean; Berahino (Lambert, 76); Rondon.
Leicester (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Schlupp; Mahrez, Drinkwater (Okazaki, 88), Kanté, Albrighton (Dyer, 76); Ulloa (King, 69), Vardy.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: Mahrez (Leicester)
Match rating: 8/10
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