Despite creating a host of second half chances from left wing crosses, Leicester City dropped two crucial points against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday evening.
N’Golo Kanté, second to top tackler and interceptor in the league, was forced to sit this one out due to a slight hamstring strain. Salomon Rondon’s opener would have been unlikely had the Frenchman been on the pitch; Darren Fletcher availing of a lack of midfield pressure to thread his striker through down the inside-right channel.
Kanté’s absence turned out to be a double-edged sword for the Foxes, however. Andy King, his replacement (and Leicester’s all-time top scoring midfielder), took turns with the excellent Danny Drinkwater to make forward runs to overload Tony Pulis’ typically massed defence. The Welshman fed Drinkwater on the edge of the area for the latter’s fortunate deflected equaliser. And it was King himself who grabbed Leicester’s second just before half-time; taking advantage of the space afforded by the Jamie Vardy run that dragged both Jonas Olsson and Darren Fletcher away from the goalscorer.
The first of Leicester’s two dalliances with the woodwork also stemmed from a forward run from one of Leicester’s two midfielders; Danny Drinkwater reaching the left byline and standing it up for Vardy to head onto the crossbar.
With Pulis’ classic tactic of using centre backs in the full back positions in train, there seemed little hope at the beginning of the second half that West Brom could come from behind against a side that prefers to sit in and pounce on the break. Until, that is, that Craig Gardner produced a marvellous direct free-kick to level the scores.
Now the onus was again on Leicester to use their guile to break down a resolute defence. This is an unfamiliar position for the Foxes, for which this was only the fourth game of the season in which they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. Saturday’s ultra-scrappy, get-out-of-jail victory against Norwich, in which Leicester’s first shot on target arrived after an hour, was the third.
This game was different however, with the hosts extremely unfortunate not to profit from a series of chances created down West Brom’s right-hand side. With Stephane Sessegnon playing relatively high on that flank for the visitors, this area of the field was the focus of much of Leicester’s attacking play in the first half. That concentrated pressure only ratcheted up further after the equaliser; although Leicester rode their luck when Rondon struck over from six yards, they went on to fashion six chances down the left. Two of them were clear-cut, with one – Okazaki’s header from Albrighton’s 57th minute left-footed cross – hitting the bar again.
Despite being the game’s joint highest chance creator (and producing the crossfield ball that led to his side’s second), Albrighton was rather unlucky to be substituted soon after this near-miss. Manager, Claudio Ranieri, instead opted for the natural left foot of Jeffrey Schlupp to go at Craig Dawson on the outside. He then later further increased the pressure on the beleaguered West Brom right flank by introducing winger Demarai Gray in place of left back Christian Fuchs and instructing Schlupp to regularly go on the overlap in the latter’s stead. Two minutes after this change, Schlupp reached the byline to square for Vardy, who undercooked his effort.
Gray created Leicester’s biggest chance to take all three points, when his inswinger rebounded off Wes Morgan (of all people) and Jonas Olsson before finally falling at the feet of the former. Morgan struck it well, but straight at Ben Foster. Mahrez’s unnecessarily acrobatic back post strike and his header to set up Gareth McAuley to foil Leonardo Ulloa at close range both also resulted from injury-time left wing crosses.
Leicester made a convincing case here that they are far more capable than one would think of taking the game to a more restrained opposition. They were extremely unfortunate that their strategy of overloading West Brom’s relatively undermanned right flank did not pay off. Two out of every three of their 43 crosses were delivered from the left hand side; compare and contrast to the efforts of Arsenal when trailing Manchester United on Sunday, who only managed to deliver six crosses after the 63rd minute introduction of Olivier Giroud. Although Leicester may have lost ground in the title race on Tuesday evening, they won’t have lost any faith in their collective ability to deliver a happy ending to what has been a truly remarkable story.