Leicester City stand tall despite all the title pressure, says Neil Humphreys
Leicester's physical strength and mental might defy belief
CRYSTAL PALACE 0
(Riyad Mahrez 34)
Winners are determined by inches. The gap between success and failure is tiny, barely the width of the crossbar.
And when Crystal Palace's Damien Delaney crashed his shot against the upright in the 93rd minute, Leicester City knew they had survived.
They had found that inch to keep going, to keep winning, to continue to defy all conventional logic.
Many, many better sides have lifted the English Premier League, but none surpassed the Foxes' mental and physical tenacity.
In a season filled with tumbling Humpty Dumptys, Claudio Ranieri's magnificent men have stood tall, defiant, unbeatable, unbreakable.
They would not yield this morning (Singapore time), fully deserving their narrow 1-0 victory and eight-point lead at the summit.
This was a match that Leicester might have lost, perhaps should've lost.
Selhurst Park was positively littered with banana skins.
Arsenal would've lost. Manchester United would've almost certainly succumbed and even Tottenham might have been rattled by the occasion.
But the Foxes are dipped in granite.
They were obviously aware of Selhurst Park's recent history, with the compact, rowdy stadium doubling as a graveyard for dead title ambitions.
Liverpool and Manchester City had previously failed to find victory in their respective title races. The Foxes were wary of being third time unlucky.
Their start was a tentative one; or a deceptive one, depending on your point of view.
For a side without a league victory in 2016, Palace enjoyed more possession than expected, even if their early dominance proved to be a smokescreen.
Leicester often withdraw in matches, but do not cower. They're closer to a coiled cobra than a cornered dog. There's a method to the mild-mannered demeanour.
Alan Pardew was quickly made aware of Leicester's soak and strike approach when a dizzying counter-attack from the visitors culminating with Riyad Mahrez springing clear.
His shot was saved, but the Palace manager had seen enough. Pardew was caught on camera ordering his midfield general Mile Jedinak to relay the message. Forget 4-4-2. Play 4-5-1.
N'Golo Kante and the omnipresent Daniel Drinkwater had dominated central midfield, bypassing the peripheral Yohan Cabaye.
With the extra man, Palace seized the initiative, stretching their width through Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie and pressing their advantage.
Briefly, the league leaders looked vulnerable. Naturally, they scampered away and scored.
Watching Leicester accelerate, en masse, has been a privilege this season, an experience comparable to the roaring, hurried frenzy of an F1 starting grid.
Marc Albrighton, once an Aston Villa reject and Wigan Athletic loanee, kick-started the blistering move in the 34th minute, instigating a surge that eventually reached Jamie Vardy on the left side of the box.
His cross, like his side on the counter-attack, was fast, driven and decisive. Mahrez gleefully collected his 16th Premier League strike of the season.
Moments later, Vardy mopped up a minor mess inside his own penalty box. Leicester's collective lung capacity again defied belief, displaying levels of stamina that belonged at the Singapore Turf Club rather than Selhurst Park.
They made a mockery of post-modern managerial nonsense about squad rotations and the need to radically alter formations from week to week.
The Foxes are as predictable as Singapore's hot and humid weather, playing the allegedly antiquated 4-4-2 with the same small group of players and the same, swift, counter-pressing philosophy.
They ran their sweaty socks off.
Will it be enough to sustain campaigns on various domestic and continental fronts next season? Who cares? It's enough to earn an eight-point lead at the top of the table.
The Foxes genuinely shame the two Manchester clubs and even Arsenal and Chelsea. The fallen elite cannot match Leicester's winning rate, obviously, but they can't get anywhere near their workrate either.
Pardew replaced the exhausted Pape Souare and the ineffectual Emmanuel Adebayor with Martin Kelly and Bakary Sako respectively in a bid to stall the human automatons.
Kelly and Sako worked well together down the left, but aside from a couple of routine saves from Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester rarely appeared troubled.
The side with the best away record in the English Premier League are remarkably unfazed when the hosts run at their resolute defence.
They held on. Even Delaney's stoppage time strike could not deny them.
They had earned that extra inch.
At the final whistle, delirious Foxes fans screamed: "We're gonna win the league… and now you're gonna believe us."
Everyone does now. The men of steel are ready to fly.