Jamie Vardy goal keeps Leicester’s resurgence going with win at West Brom

Stuart James at The Hawthorns
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Leicester striker Jamie Vardy scores what turned out to be his side’s winning goal against West Brom at The Hawthorns.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy scores what turned out to be his side’s winning goal against West Brom at The Hawthorns. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The Premier League champions can finally breathe more easily as any lingering relegation fears were put to bed on an afternoon when Jamie Vardy continued his resurgence under Craig Shakespeare to score the only goal of a game that rarely came to life.

It was Vardy’s 15th of the season in all competitions and his eighth in 12 matches under Shakespeare – a run of form that has been central to propelling Leicester from the lower reaches of the table to 11th place. This was only Leicester’s second away victory in the league this season and takes them to the 40-point barrier with four fixtures remaining.

As for Albion, an excellent season has badly unravelled and this must have felt like groundhog day for Tony Pulis, their manager. This was a fourth straight defeat and a fifth successive league game without scoring, which is a club record, and it is hard to avoid the impression that their players signed off for the season when they beat Arsenal 3-1 six weeks ago.

It was a scrappy game throughout, low on quality and riddled with mistakes, one of which led to Vardy’s goal. Salomon Rondon, who has failed to score since December, gifted possession to Shinji Okazaki with a loose pass and Albion, normally so tight and compact, were suddenly wide open. Okazaki fed Vardy and the English international did the rest with the minimum of fuss, sweeping a right-footed shot from just inside the area beyond Ben Foster.

Until that point neither side had offered much in a fractious game that had threatened to boil over on a couple of occasions. Danny Drinkwater picked up a booking for a full-blooded challenge on Nacer Chadli – when Mark Clattenburg quickly reached for his pocket it was tempting to think that the referee was going to brandish a red card. Then Claudio Yacob was booked after catching Okazaki with an elbow. Clattenburg, in other words, was being kept busy in what is likely to be his last assignment in the Premier League before he takes up his new position as head of referees in Saudi Arabia.

<span class="element-image__caption">Leonardo Ulloa goes up for a header.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Leonardo Ulloa goes up for a header. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Other than Vardy’s goal, there was little to get excited about in the opening 45 minutes. Albion’s chances in that period were restricted to a couple of headers, with Kasper Schmeichel denying Christ Brunt at the far post and Rondon, back in more familiar territory at the other end of the pitch, glancing Chadli’s corner off target.

Leicester came close to scoring a second early in the second half. Vardy once again was involved, escaping in the left channel before sliding a low centre across the six-yard box and behind the Albion defence. Okazaki, stretching every sinew, was just unable to get a touch. Riyad Mahrez, cutting in from the right, swept another effort into the side-netting as Leicester began to attack with more conviction.

Albion, in contrast, looked flat, one-paced and devoid of ideas. Pulis responded by bringing on Darren Fletcher and James McClean in the second half to try to lift his team. James Morrison headed straight at Schmeichel late on but it was a routine save for the Leicester goalkeeper on a day when he had precious little to do in the face of a toothless Albion attack.

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