Leicester were denied the chance to head into Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg with Atletico Madrid on the back of a victory after squandering a two-goal lead at Selhurst Park. Leading through goals from Robert Huth and Jamie Vardy, they allowed Crystal Palace to recover, displaying defensive frailties that must be eradicated if they are to succeed in progressing against the La Liga side.
Craig Shakespeare’s side claimed Christian Benteke fouled Yohan Benalouane as he headed the 70th minute equaliser after Yohan Cabaye had brought Palace into the game but there is no doubt they must be more solid against the Spaniards.
Five successive league victories – a run that was brought to an end at Everton last Sunday – may have eased concerns Leicester might get drawn into the bottom three but Shakespeare’s team selection suggested the manager would not allow a meeting with a team sat two points below the current champions to be overshadowed by Tuesday’s tie.
The visitors’ starting line-up included just two changes from the side that started in Madrid with Leo Ulloa coming in alongside Jamie Vardy in place of Shinji Okazaki and Andy King replacing Danny Drinkwater in central midfield.
Allardyce, predictably, made no changes to the eleven that started Monday’s impressive 3-0 victory over Arsene Wenger’s side, Palace’s fifth win in six games and one that moved them six points clear of the bottom three. That, though, was were the similarities ended for the home side during the first half.
Palace’s upturn has been built on them finally discovering a resilience that had been lacking for much of the season. Improved defensive organisation, together with the outstanding form of Mamadou Sakho following the centre-back’s loan move from Liverpool has led to more clean sheets although there were reminders of their old bad habits in last weekend’s defeat at Southampton that alarmed Allardyce.
The Palace manager was given further cause for concern just six minutes into this game when Leicester took the lead in a manner that infuriated Allardyce. Marc Albrighton’s efforts on the left hand flank won a throw-in level with the penalty spot that was launched by Christian Fuchs towards the edge of the six-yard area. Huth simply rose above Joel Ward and directed his header beyond Wayne Hennessey.
Having eased ahead, Leicester appeared satisfied to sit back and contain a home side that struggled to create meaningful chances despite dominating possession. Christian Benteke should have done better in the 18th minute when he brought Joel Ward’s cross down at the far post before shooting against the legs of Kasper Schmeichel who had narrowed the angle by moving quickly off his line. But they had to wait until the final moments of the first half before another clear opening came their way when Andros Townsend was released into the area by Ward.
Shakespeare’s side appeared comfortable without ever threatening to add to their lead during the remainder of the first half but took full advantage when another opportunity came their way seven minutes into second half.
Palace were again undone by Leicester’s direct approach, this time after Townsend’s corner had been cleared. The loose ball fell to Riyad Mahrez who played an early long ball that triggered a foot-race between Vardy and Jeff Schlupp. Vardy had the edge going into the home penalty area where he cut inside Schlupp and placed a left foot shot beyond Hennessey, who was unable to push the ball beyond the far post despite getting a touch.
Allardyce’s side needed a quick response and it came two minutes later when Wilfried Zaha’s cross was allowed to drift through to Schlupp at the far side of the Leicester box. The left-back’s shot was blocked by Danny Simpson but Cabaye moved onto the loose ball to score his second goal in two games.
And having narrowly escaped conceding a third from another long Fuchs throw, Palace levelled in the 70th minute after Benteke clambered all over Yohan Benalouane to head home from Townsend’s cross.
What did the managers say?
Crystal Palace manager Sam Allardyce: “A great point for us. On reflection, when you finish a game with a point having been 2-0 down, you have to be incredibly satisfied with that point however precious it might be moving forward. It kept our run going, showing just how good we are as a team at the moment.
Physically and mentally we are very strong, and the mental side showed by coming back today to get back to 2-2. We didn't sit back after that, a great game, fantastic game, and I'm very pleased we got back to 2-2 and our response.”
Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare: "There is a tinge of disappointment, especially when you go two up away from home. Their first goal was all important for them, two minutes from our second. We could have seen it out if we'd stayed in the lead a bit longer, but they asked a lot of questions of us with their aerial threat.
We should be pleased with a point, probably. I've looked at the equaliser and I've seen free-kicks given. Benteke is riding on the defender's back. I don't know how the defender can elevate himself to head that with him on his back.”
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Hennessey; Ward, Kelly, Sakho, Schlupp (Van Aanholt 67); Cabaye, Milivojevic; Townsend, Puncheon, Zaha (McArthur 84); Benteke.
Subs: Speroni, Flamini, Campbell, Sako, Delaney.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Benalouane (Chilwell 76), Fuchs; Mahrez (Gray 75), Ndidi, King (Drinkwater 64), Albrighton; Ulloa, Vardy.
Subs: Zieler, Musa, Amartey, Okazaki.
Referee: M Dean