March 2: Leicester City’s unlikely Premier League title challenge faltered with a 2-2 home draw against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, offering Tottenham Hotspur the chance to go top in another twist to the most unpredictable race for the championship in years.
Chelsea, on the other hand, continued with their resurgence under interim manager Guus Hiddink, rising to eighth place and within sight of Champions League places with a 2-1 win over Norwich City. The Blues’ unbeaten run since Jose Mourinho’s firing in December now extends to 12 games.
Moving three points clear of the world’s richest league was nothing to celebrate for Leicester’s despondent players, who wasted a slew of late chances to put a provisional five-point gap over Spurs.
“Just sometimes you can do everything but the ball doesn’t want to go in,” said Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, who has turned a team that narrowly avoided relegation last season into a title contender.
Tottenham is away to West Ham on Wednesday, while the title hopes of fellow contenders Arsenal and Manchester City — third and fourth respectively — were also boosted by Leicester dropping points.
For reigning champions Chelsea, young Brazilian left back Kenedy scored after 39 seconds — the quickest goal of the season so far — to set Chelsea on its way to victory.
At the bottom, Aston Villa’s fans staged a mass walkout after the last-place team sunk closer to relegation with a 3-1 home loss to Everton. Villa Park had already started to empty when thousands of fans departed in the 74th minute — when Villa was 3-0 down — to mark the year the club was founded, 1874.
“The situation is difficult but we have to fight until the end,” said Villa manager Remi Garde, whose team is eight points from safety with 10 games left.
Sunderland grabbed a 90th-minute equaliser to draw 2-2 with Crystal Palace and provisionally climb out of the bottom three and Bournemouth beat south-coast rival Southampton 2-0 to further ease its relegation concerns.
The fourth official for the Bournemouth-Southampton match, Kevin Friend, was taken to hospital after collapsing and hitting his head on a dugout near the end of the first half.
In its last three games, Leicester has lost to Arsenal, won scrappily against Norwich and now drawn at home to a West Brom side owning a poor away record. But in no way is Leicester suffering a case of the jitters as the team bids to become the most unlikely title winner in the history of England’s top league.
Leicester was excellent for the most part, but was undone by a 50th-minute free kick from Craig Gardner that made it 2-2. Salomon Rondon put West Brom ahead before central midfielders Danny Drinkwater and Andy King scored in the 31st and 45th minutes, respectively.
Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy both struck the bar with headers with two of Leicester’s best chances.
“Nothing negative,” Ranieri said. “We tried to do everything and well done to my players. I love this — we never, never give up.”
Diego Costa scored from a seemingly offside position for what proved the clinching goal for Chelsea, which is in the top half of the standings for the first time since week one of the season — a testament to the turnaround sparked by Hiddink.
“We were almost in the relegation zone and had a target to get out of there as soon as possible,” Hiddink said. “We are now winning games in a row and that is encouraging.”
Chelsea is five points behind fifth-place Manchester United, which plays Watford on Wednesday.