Leicester can seal the deal, says Neil Humphreys
Leicester have the momentum and hearts to seal the deal
Jamie Vardy was the clincher.
Until he scored his emphatic double against Sunderland on Sunday, the dream weaver had left room for doubt.
As long as Vardy wasn't scoring, there remained a distant fear of Leicester City faltering.
For much of the season, the fortunes of both club and striker were interchangeable, inseparable. They learnt similar lines from the same, surreal fairy tale.
But, after his Valentine's Day penalty against Arsenal, Vardy stopped scoring. He hadn't netted in open play since Feb 2.
Without the central hero's goals, there was always a chance of an unhappy ending.
Despite the four consecutive 1-0 victories, there had to be a slip-up. There had to be. This was Leicester City. This was the English Premier League, home of the status quo and a smug, self-satisfied elite.
But Vardy's brace at Sunderland was the final straw that broke the cynic's back.
Now we must all believe. With just five games to go, only three victories are required; three achievable victories against beatable opposition.
The fuzzy lines between dream and reality are blurring into a technicolour delight for even jaded neutrals.
Sunderland's physical, awkward and determined side, fighting for survival, offered the perfect fixture to demonstrate Leicester's inner resolve.
Everything was set up for the Foxes to fail - a striker who had stopped scoring, an unchanged, tiring side, a volatile away crowd desperate and burly opposition led by a manager with a polished act in escapology.
But even Big Sam Allardyce couldn't conjure a great escape.
He ordered Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone to fall back, resist the high line and restrict the Foxes; a task they performed admirably.
They lapsed only twice. And Vardy scored twice. Leicester's efficiency in front of goal has been staggering.
Vardy reached 21 goals. Daniel Drinkwater reached five assists, all of them for Vardy.
Every side know what to expect against Leicester. Few sides have stopped them.
The task now falls to their next opponents on Sunday - West Ham, who will almost certainly be distracted by the outcome of the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United on Thursday morning (Singapore time).
Refreshed and rampant, the Foxes will welcome a weary side that haven't managed a victory in four games.
If Sunderland felt like a psychological hurdle was cleared, West Ham will move the trophy within touching distance, close enough to visualise the words "Leicester City" being inscribed across its silver belly.
Players speak of momentum, the surge of consistency pushing their bodies to their physical limits, but cool, dispassionate reality is always the most effective performance-enhancing stimulant.
Nothing drives hearts and minds quite like a simple maths equation.
If West Ham are defeated, two more wins from four games delivers the Disney ending.
Swansea at home and then, poetically, beautifully, perfectly, Manchester United away, the Theatre of Dreams.
Old Trafford's participants and punters once monopolised the modern romance. Now they specialise in mediocrity.
Secretly, they know they are beatable, ready to play minor characters in another club's fantasy.
Robert Huth and Wes Morgan can handle United's one-man attack, while N'Golo Kante could stop a freight train. Jesse Lingard doesn't pose quite the same physical threat.
Even if Leicester slip against either West Ham or Man United, as miserable sourpusses continue to suggest, there are still opportunities to pick up the required points against either Everton or Chelsea.
Both those clubs offer less consistency than watery custard left out in the midday sun.
And one should not assume that Tottenham will annihilate all before them either. They might not even prevail at Stoke.
For an hour, they laboured against an incoherent United and needlessly conceded points against West Ham and Arsenal. They will do so again before the season ends.
But Leicester, on the other hand, are no longer a football team. They are a freakish phenomenon, the likes of which we will not see again.
In the dying moments at the Stadium of Light, Vardy harassed fullbacks while Leonardo Ulloa chased down loose balls in the final third.
They were leading 2-0. The contest was over. And yet the commitment was colossal, bewildering even.
The Foxes are displaying a ferocious, collective force of will that can neither be curtailed nor denied.
They know that history, real history, history for all time, is theirs for the taking.
Claudio Ranieri certainly knows. At Sunderland, he literally cried for the cause. But he is nobody's clown. These were the tears of a conqueror.
"It’s just good to keep that winning habit going, I think that’s massive. The buzz you get from a game from winning sees you through that week, and then your confidence is high for the following week."
— Leicester midfielder Marc Albrighton
20 - Jamie Vardy is the first Leicester player to score 20 top-flight goals in a season for 31 years after his brace at Sunderland.
5 - All five of Danny Drinkwater's Premier League assists this season have been for Vardy.
14 - Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel's 14 clean sheets this season is a Premier League high.
0 - Leicester have now gone seven hours and 25 minutes without conceding a league goal. It is also the first time they have kept five straight clean sheets in the top flight.
- Sunday: v West Ham (H)
- April 24: v Swansea (H)
- May 1: v Man United (A)
- May 7: v Everton (H)
- May 15: v Chelsea (A)
- Monday: v Stoke (A)
- April 25: v West Brom (H)
- May 2: v Chelsea (A)
- May 8: v Southampton (H)
- May 15: v Newcastle (A)
Ranieri calls for focus: Well done, but title not won
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri is refusing to look any further ahead than the next match despite seeing his side edge closer to the Premier League title.
The Foxes maintained their stranglehold on top spot with a 2-0 victory at Sunderland on Sunday but, Ranieri (above), as he has done all season, was keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Asked if it was difficult to hear people saying the title is already theirs, the Italian said: "No, no, no. They can continue to say it. No, no, no, no.
"But it's important our focus, our concentration is on the next match.
"I said this to the players, 'Well done, we won today, but now we have two matches. The first against West Ham (Sunday) is a very, very difficult match because West Ham are a fantastic team with good players and everything right; and after, there is Swansea, another difficult match. Now we are happy but, from tomorrow, be focused'.
"Every time I speak to them, it is 'Next match, next match'. I don't want to see more than the next match."
Ranieri appeared to shed a tear on the pitch after watching his team bank three more points courtesy of Jamie Vardy's second-half double, and admitted he had been moved by what he saw as the team coach arrived on Wearside.
He said: "It's fantastic when you see before the match a lot of old ladies with Leicester shirts outside the stadium.
"I said, 'Unbelievable, they came from Leicester to support us'. That is emotional, that is fantastic, that is football.
"It's unbelievable. They are amazing. They are dreaming and we want to continue to dream. But to do this, we must be concentrated."
Midfielder Marc Albrighton has urged Leicester to enjoy every minute of their fairy-tale season.
The 26-year-old told Foxes Player: "It is fantastic. Obviously, there are a lot of players in there who have never been in this situation before, me included, so we have just got to enjoy every day, every minute of it and embrace the moment. That's what everyone is doing at the minute."
The win over Sunderland was Leicester's fifth successive victory and ensured they will, at the very least, have a Champions League qualifier to look forward, but the title looks to be theirs for the taking if they can hold their nerve.
- PA Sport.