Leicester City produced an incredible comeback at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon as Stoke City threw away a two goal lead despite having played against ten-men for nearly two-thirds of the game.
This match was an unbelievable spectacle from start to finish, filled with drama, controversy and passion. Four goals, eight bookings, one red card, one penalty, some questionable refereeing, touchline frolics and a last gasp equaliser all contrived to create an immense roller-coaster of a contest for the interested on-looker.
After a bright opening to the game, in which both sides created a number of chances, the game sparked into life when Jamie Vardy was shown a red card following a heavy challenge on Mame Biram Diouf close to the half-way line. Without hesitation referee Craig Pawson immediately dismissed the England international which signalled the start of a mini-capitulation for The Foxes prior to half-time as they appeared to lose all sense of discipline and structure.
Bojan Krkic gave Stoke City the lead from the penalty spot after Danny Simpson had blocked a cross with his arm before Joe Allen was able to convert from close range after Giannelli Imbula’s long-range shot had cannoned back off the post. Leicester went into the dressing room at half time two goals behind and a man down with another five players having received yellow cards (three for dissent). However, the most astonishing sight of the first period was seeing the normally relaxed Claudio Ranieri having to be ushered away from the match officials by Kasper Schmeichel as the two team’s headed for the tunnel – the Italian obviously incensed by Pawson’s officiating in the opening forty-five minutes.
Stoke were well worth their lead going into the half time interval and had produced some sublime football to keep the visitors on the back foot. However, The Potters came out for the second period a different team – seemingly content to defend their two goal advantage despite the numerical advantage. The home side appeared to be in relative control until the final fifteen minutes which saw substitute Leonardo Ullao half the deficit before Daniel Amartey headed home an astonishing last-gasp equaliser.
Absolute madness. Football can be an incredible game!
Stoke capitalise on Leicester indiscipline
Undoubtedly the contest was sparked into life when Jamie Vardy was dismissed mid-way through the first half. Whether referee Craig Pawson was correct to show the red card is entirely down to personal interpretation and, for those in the stadium, which club you follow. Vardy’s tackle saw him leave the ground momentarily and fly into the challenge in robust fashion, however, he clearly won the ball and it certainly was not some form of dangerous two-footed lunge. There will be plenty of opportunity for pundits and supporters alike to consider multiple video replays over the coming days although it will be unlikely that there will be any kind of common consensus.
Following the sending off Leicester appeared to lose all sense of discipline and structure, which their hosts were quick to capitalise on. Five visiting players were handed yellow cards before the half-time interval, three of which were for dissent, and even Claudio Ranieri lost his cool and had to be dragged away just after the half-time whistle as he angrily confronted Pawson and his officiating colleagues. Stoke ruthlessly capitalised with a mixture of possession football and innovation in the final third and it was no surprise when Bojan Krkic gave the hosts the lead from the penalty spot. Again, Leicester supporters felt incensed by the decision but the ball clearly struck Danny Simpon’s arm, albeit from only four yards away. When Joe Allen tapped in a second goal from close-range on the stroke of half-time the game looked to have been all but over as a contest.
Sloppy Stoke throw away two points
There are two different interpretations of the second half of football that took place at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday – first, a Stoke perspective.
It is inexcusable that The Potters let a two-goal lead slip with the visitors down to ten-men and Mark Hughes will rightly receive criticism for his side’s second half performance. In truth, the home side have only themselves to blame. For all of the fast, pacey attacking play that they produced in the first half, the second period witnessed a timid, cautious performance that handed the impetus and momentum to the visitors. Even at 2-0 Stoke appeared content to defend their lead, passing the ball aimlessly in their own half and reluctant to push bodies forward in search of a third goal that would have killed the game.
As the second half progressed Leicester began to look increasingly threatening going forward and it came as little surprise when Leonardo Ulloa stepped off the bench to put the visitors back into the contest with a fine headed finish. For whatever reason, Mark Hughes was slow to respond. No substitutes arrived until the final ten minutes, and even then his first change was a defensive move as Charlie Adam came on to replace Bojan Krkic. By that point Stoke had surrendered all momentum and it was The Foxes that suddenly appeared to have the numerical advantage, pinning the hosts into their own eighteen-yard-box. When Daniel Amartey grabbed a late equaliser it came as little surprise to the infuriated home supporters.
Stoke approached the second period with a negative, defensive attitude – and Leicester made them pay.
Leicester demonstrate character and heart to grab a draw
From a Leicester City perspective, the first half could not have gone much worse, however, The Foxes came out of the dressing room for the second half looking like a completely different team. Whether the players had been riled up by the perceived injustice of Jamie Vardy’s red card or Claudio Ranieri had produced the most motivating team talk in history, it is hard to say. Whatever the explanation, the reigning English champions were well worth their point.
It was the introduction of Demarai Gray and Leonardo Ullao after seventy-two minutes that proved to be the turning point. Up until that stage, Stoke had dominated possession but had shown an increasing reluctance to push bodies forward in search of third goal – the double substitution by Ranieri, in stark contrast, was an attacking move that allowed the visitors to grab hold of the game and get on the front foot. Quite how the ten-men of Leicester were able to out-work and out-play their hosts is nothing more than a demonstration of the incredible character and quality that their squad possess – the kind of quality and character that secured them the Premier League title last season.
When Ulloa halved the deficit it was only a matter of time before The Foxes grabbed the equaliser. In fact, it would have been interesting to have seen how the game had progressed if the half had lasted ten minutes longer!
This could be a big moment in Leicester’s season that marks the turning point in their stuttering domestic campaign.
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