LEICESTER, UK: Jamie Vardy rediscovered his Midas touch to extend Leicester City’s fairytale season as they regained top spot in the Premier League with a 3-0 win at home to Stoke on Saturday.
The England striker had not scored for seven matches during which Claudio Ranieri’s surprise package had managed only one win and had crashed out of the FA Cup.
But Vardy slid home his 16th goal of the season from a tight angle to complete a miserable afternoon for Stoke City, who lost skipper Ryan Shawcross to injury.
Danny Drinkwater, one of the unsung heroes of Leicester’s remarkable success story, had opened the scoring three minutes before the break with his first goal of the season.
Drinkwater then turned provider with the 66th minute pass which unlocked the Stoke defence and allowed Vardy to round Jack Butland and apply the finishing touch.
To crown a morale-boosting victory for Ranieri’s men, substitute Leonardo Ulloa stabbed home a third in the closing stages after a flash of brilliance from Riyad Mahrez.
While Leicester can carry on dreaming of the title and possible Champions League football from their perch on top of the Premier League, Stoke were left to reflect on a miserable afternoon in which a recurrence of a back injury for Shawcross was a major concern.
After a fairly uneventful opening to the game, it sprung to life with chances at both ends in quick succession, although it was Leicester who were closer to breaking the deadlock.
Within seconds of Jon Walters having a scent of an opportunity at one end, after latching onto Erik Pieters’ pass, Vardy had an instinctive shot on the turn following Marc Albrighton’s cross.
Though Stoke were able to scramble that away for a corner, Christian Fuchs’ subsequent ball into the box was met with a scissor kick from Mahrez which flashed past the post.
Danny Simpson’s sense of awareness led to him producing a vital clearance when Mame Diouf was rose at the far post in anticipation of meeting Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross with his head.
Stoke were dealt a blow on the half hour when Shawcross finally had to concede that his back problem picked a up a few minutes earlier wasn’t going to allow him to continue.
But it did not appear to have an unsettling effect as Marc Wilson dropped into his place, although Shinji Okazaki fired a 20-yard drive over the bar at the end of a Leicester counter attack.
However, the deadlock was broken three minutes before the break when Philipp Wollscheid could only half clear a corner and Drinkwater’s low drive was deflected past Butland by Wilson.
Stoke were thankful for Ibrahim Afellay’s determination when he got back to make a crucial block to prevent Okazaki capitalising on Mahrez’s burst forward and pass to the frontman.
They then went close to making the most of that let-off by carving out a good opportunity as Glen Johnson’s cross picked out Joselu, but fortunately for Leicester, his close range header was directed straight at Kasper Schmeichel who was able to save quite comfortably.
Leicester introduced a pair of fresh legs when Ulloa replaced the injured Okazaki and the substitute made his mark immediately with a determined run which took him past three Stoke defenders before he fired his low shot wide of the far post.
But the King Power Stadium erupted moments later when Drinkwater struck a pass into the path of Vardy and he outpaced the unfortunate Wilson before waltzing around England team-mate Butland and instinctively slipping his low shot into an empty net.
Though Stoke rarely threatened to hit back in the closing stages of the game, Leicester put the seal on their emphatic win when Mahrez weaved his way into the box and managed to guide the ball to Ulloa, who gleefully accepted the close-range chance.