Jamie Vardy’s clinical double earned Leicester City a 2-0 win over Sunderland that takes them a step closer to the Premier League title.
The England striker raced onto Danny Drinkwater’s long ball before finishing with aplomb midway through the second half of a scrappy affair at the Stadium of Light, which was high in tension but low in quality.
Both sides had shouts for a penalty waved away in a first half during which chances were scarce, though Kasper Schmeichel saved well to deny Fabio Borini as Sunderland sought a win to give their survival hopes a major boost.
Drinkwater came close for Leicester before he set up Vardy to snatch the lead and send the visiting fans into raptures, and Claudio Ranieri’s side secured a killer second in injury time to put further pressure on second-placed Tottenham, thanks to a fine solo goal from their number nine.
Sunderland, who worked tirelessly but were too often wasteful in the final third, remain four points from safety in 18th place.
N’Golo Kante’s ambitious dipping volley from distance summed up Leicester’s determination to seize an early advantage.
Wes Morgan, whose header secured three points against Southampton last week, spurned a great chance to put Leicester ahead when he nodded Riyad Mahrez’s corner wide from just six yards out.
Shinji Okazaki’s appeals for a penalty were dismissed after he was caught by DeAndre Yedlin following Marc Albrighton’s flighted ball over the top, but it was Sunderland who began to look the more likely as the half went on, Younes Kaboul coming closest with a looping header from just inside the box.
The home side had their own shouts for a penalty waved away by Anthony Taylor just before half-time, after Patrick van Aanholt’s attempted cutback struck the trailing arm of Robert Huth, before Schmeichel reacted well with his legs to hook Fabio Borini’s deflected effort clear of the near post.
Borini missed two more half-chances as Sunderland started the second period the strongest, first scuffing a shot wide of the near post before firing just a couple of feet over with a far cleaner strike from the edge of the area.
Drinkwater was denied by a smart smothering stop from Vito Mannone as he looked to race clear onto Vardy’s pass, but just as a breakthrough was beginning to look beyond a surprisingly sluggish Leicester, they seized the initiative.
Drinkwater fired a superb long pass from his own half into the path of Vardy, who raced into the penalty area before slotting low past a hesitant Mannone into the bottom corner.
Mahrez almost set up Vardy for a second as he left Yedlin for dead on the break, but the ball just eluded him before Borini endured the embarrassment of kicking the ball into his own face and behind for a goal-kick when picked out in space in the area.
Sunderland pushed for a late equaliser, but Jack Rodwell blazed over the crossbar when completely unmarked just six yards out to sum up another frustrating 90 minutes for Sam Allardyce’s side.
And Leicester, who saw late efforts from Drinkwater and substitute Daniel Amartey thwarted by Mannone, sealed the win as Vardy charged from the halfway line before prodding the ball around the Sunderland keeper and tucking in his 21st goal of a remarkable season.
Key Opta stats:
– Leicester City have won 33 points in 2016; more than any other team in the Premier League.
– The Black Cats have enjoyed just one win in their last 11 Premier League games (D6 L4).
– The Foxes have kept five consecutive clean sheets in the top-flight for the first time in their history.
– Two English players (Kane & Vardy) have scored 20+ goals in a Premier League season for the first time since 2009/10 (Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent and Frank Lampard).
– Jamie Vardy is the first Leicester City player to score 20+ goals in a top flight season since Gary Lineker in 1984/85.