Crystal Palace 0 Leicester City 2
With Crystal Palace a fresh victim, Leicester City’s latest rise to prominence continues.
“We’re going to win the league,” sang the visiting fans, following another productive fox hunt, this time in the capital.
Second half goals from Caglar Soyuncu - the Turkish international’s first goal for the club - and Jamie Vardy in the second half took all three points back to the east Midlands in a fine display of efficiency, leaving Roy Hodgson’s men perplexed by the end.
It was all more than enough to end any tentative hopes Palace had of an elevation to fifth – they remain ninth in the table.
The Eagles produced unsophisticated layers of pressure at various stages but it was, overall, a performance which lacked conviction, especially when it came to opening up their street wise opponents and creating clear chances.
Palace were facing both a tough and curious clash under the winter sun, and occasional rain, of south London. Yet the fresh impetus of a great recovery at Arsenal in their previous game, to draw 2-2, was enough at the outset to supply boss Hodgson with confidence.
The Foxes – at least until their now-infamous recent 9-0 mauling of Southampton – had been flying a little under the radar, but another victory on the road for Brendan Rodgers’ side would lift them to third in the Premier League. They duly delivered and are now third.
And the brisk visitors were first to show intent. Youri Tielemans broke free and supplied Harvey Barnes with an opportunity but the midfielder could only drive the ball straight at Palace keeper Vicente Guaita.
Palace, lacking early rhythm, sought to respond. Wilfried Zaha, the Eagles’ balletic and ever-reliable orchestrator, curled a lovely sleight-of-foot pass from the half way line into the path of Jordan Ayew. An opportunity presented itself from about 20 yards out but Ayew struck in panicked fashion and the ball flew well past the post. It hinted at the shape of much to come.
The pressure was all coming from Leicester, their counter-attacking instincts primed. Vardy went close from a tight angle before Jonny Evans powered a header inches over. Considering how well Leicester have delivered on the break in the majority of their outings, it was fortuitous for Palace that they could call on Patrick van Aanholt to deny in-form Ayoze Perez, who was aiming to recreate his scoring feats from the Foxes’ Southampton folklore.
Leicester were winning the midfield battle and for large chunks of the first half Palace were pinned back. That was, until a few minutes before the interval when Jeffery Schlupp’s dipping shot had to be urgently turned over by Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. It was, at least, a minor spot of respite for the Eagles in their attempts to gain momentum.
Chiekhou Kouyate felt the full force of a tackle by Evans at the restart, which led to a deserved booking for Leicester’s Northern Ireland defender.
Palace increased their pressing slightly and, with Zaha at the forefront as usual, it raised both the spirits and the noise levels across Selhurst Park. Moreover, they were – just about - managing to spike the thread of danger by both James Maddison and, especially, Vardy, who was in the hunt for his tenth goal of the campaign.
Sadly for the Eagles, it didn’t last. Guaita pulled off the save of the afternoon, turning over an Evans header and, from the resulting Maddison whipped corner in the 57th minute, Soyuncu stooped to power home a header from eight yards.
While Palace certainly responded in the correct manner, and Zaha as well as Kouaye especially worked hard, their efforts lacked cohesion; a tame Joel Ward effort saved by Schmeichel was fairly typical. City’s organisation, so impressive under Rodgers, was obvious with Ayew a frustrated lone Eagle with time running out. Hodgson certainly noticed and replaced the front man with Christian Benteke, although the apparent logic of making a switch, holding out for a striker who struggles to score, was somewhat odd.
Vardy did get his wish a couple of minutes from normal time, drilling home from twelve yards after a lovely interchange with Foxes’ substitute Demarai Gray. The Eagles’ wings were now fully clipped - and Hodgson can have few complaints about the outcome.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Guaita, Ward, Van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Tomkins, Kouyate (Meyer 74), Ayew (Benteke 78), Zaha, Schlupp, McArthur (McArthur 78), Cahill