Vardy ends drought as Leicester go top
Cynics can laugh, but Leicester's impossible dream is on
LEICESTER CITY 3
(Danny Drinkwater 42, Jamie Vardy 66, Leonardo Ulloa 87)
STOKE CITY 0
The dream of the underdogs is addictive.
Hardened cynics are falling for its hypnotic power.
Leicester City could win this thing.
They could actually pull off the greatest English Premier League miracle of all time.
The Foxes are top of the table.
The fixture list is a week away from February. Snow is falling across British peaks, but Leicester are sitting comfortably at the summit.
This story stopped being plausible months ago.
This is a football riddle wrapped in a Leicester mystery inside the enigma that is Claudio Ranieiri's head.
Common sense dictated that this was going to be the game.
This had to be the day the dream died. The banana skins were waiting, disguised in red and white stripes.
Stoke had quietly built a head of steam. Leicester had only one win in their last seven games.
But the banana skins were not so much side-stepped in the 3-0 victory as they were kicked into the stands of a swinging King Power Stadium, trampled underfoot as the Leicester faithful rose to their feet to celebrate history in the making.
The creeping realisation is spreading with each cleared hurdle.
Sceptics are running out of reasons to ridicule the hopeless romantics.
Leicester won't fall away. They won't do as they are told and, frankly, it's the best thing to happen to English football in years.
Ranieri's men are an old-fashioned treat for the senses. Their swashbuckling attitude comes with a smile.
Nothing is orthodox about the Foxes. From formation to philosophy, they seem to take their lead from the lyrics of Grease. Conventionality belongs to yesterday.
If the Frankie Valli reference feels like a throwback, so does Leicester's football.
If it regressed any further, it would come in a Super Saturday black and white highlights package.
It's such a guilty pleasure to revel in such retro entertainment.
Leicester are the only team to leave three men on the halfway line when defending corners.
It's risky as it is foolhardy, but breathtaking in its idealistic optimism.
But there's a method to the apparent madness. Stoke were forced to hold back three markers plus a screening midfielder at their own set-pieces.
Jamie Vardy's pace and a quick counter-attack was an omnipresent threat.
At times, it was fearless football from the school playground; invigorating, heart-pumping kick and rush that's so refreshing, particularly when compared to the sterile drivel dished out each week by Louis van Gaal's clones.
Whatever else happens, the campaign will be retrospectively analysed as the one where Leicester and Manchester United were polar opposites; one threw caution to the wind, the other was windy hot air.
But Stoke were also surprisingly tentative.
Joselu got the nod up front, but struggled to justify his selection as Xherdan Shaqiri often failed to find him. Mark Hughes' favoured maverick found himself up against N'Golo Kante. It wasn't a fair fight.
Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have dominated the headlines, but Kante annexed midfield at the start of the season.
He planted a French flag and has ruled the centre circle ever since.
A goal seemed inevitable and, after a string of corners, Leicester finally got their just desserts.
In the 42nd minute, another Foxes corner was cleared as far as Danny Drinkwater outside the box.
The midfielder drove at the ball with the relentless ferocity of a runaway train, before unleashing a grass-slashing missile.
The strike was deflected, but the goal was no more than Drinkwater - and Leicester - deserved.
Referee Mike Dean's half-time whistle was treated to a standing ovation. The Foxes left the field top of the table.
This was surrealism to rival Lewis Carroll's best work.
In the 66th minute, it was Vardy in wonderland.
A magnificent clipped ball from Drinkwater dropped invitingly behind Stoke's back four. It was a race between Leicester's whippet and the rest. There was going to be only one winner.
Vardy galloped clear of his markers and slotted home the Foxes' second.
His 16th goal ended a seven-and-a-half game drought. And when Vardy scores, Leicester usually win.
Sub Leonardo Ulloa added a third in the 87th minute to blow the roof off the King Power Stadium.
Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal are next. If the Foxes emerge relatively unscathed, they could pull away from the chasing pack.
The impossible dream is on. No one, surely, wants it to end now.
YESTERDAY'S OTHER RESULTS
- Norwich 4 Liverpool 5
- Crystal Palace 1 Tottenham 3
- Man United 0 Southampton 1
- Sunderland 1 Bournemouth 1
- Watford 2 Newcastle 1
- West Brom 0 Aston Villa 0