London (AFP) – Leonardo Ulloa’s penalty in the fifth-minute of stoppage-time rescued a point for 10-man Premier League leaders Leicester City in a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to West Ham United on Sunday that left the Foxes eight points clear at the top.
England striker Jamie Vardy, who had given Leicester the lead with his 22nd league goal of the season, was controversially sent off by Jonathan Moss for what the referee ruled a deliberate dive in the box early in the second half as the forward tried to claim a penalty.
It looked as if 10-man Leicester would cling on for all three points until, with six minutes left, Andy Carroll equalised from the penalty spot after Foxes captain Wes Morgan needlessly bundled over Winston Reid in the box.
Two minutes later Aaron Cresswell gave visitors West Ham the lead at the King Power Stadium when he bent a sublime shot into the top corner.
Leicester then thought they should have been awarded a penalty when defender Robert Huth was grabbed round the neck inside the Hammers’ box.
But Moss was unmoved and it seemed the Foxes’ best chance of an equaliser had disappeared.
Claudio Ranieri’s men, however, kept battling and in the 95th-minute of the match Moss, in what seemed a far less clear-cut case than the Huth incident, pointed to the spot following Carroll’s challenge on Jeffrey Schlupp.
Ulloa held his nerve with a well-struck penalty and a frenetic match ended all square at 2-2, with Leicester still in pole position to be crowned champions of England for the first time in the Midlands club’s 132-year history.
However, second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, chasing a first English title since 1961, will cut Leicester’s lead to just five points with four matches remaining if they win away to Stoke City on Monday.
– ‘Blood, heart and soul –
“The sending off changed our match,” Leicester manager Ranieri told Sky Sports, with the Italian refusing to comment on Moss’s performance.
“I judge my players not the referee, the referee is not my matter.
“Our performance was fantastic, this is our soul, we play every match with this, blood, heart and soul, it was magnificent,” he added.
The draw left London club West Ham, battling for a European place, sixth in the table and frustrated manager Slaven Bilic said: “We are gutted, we did enough to win the game, before the last five seconds.”
Arsenal’s bid to play in the Champions League for a 19th consecutive season suffered a setback after they were held to a 1-1 draw by London rivals Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Alexis Sanchez headed the Gunners in front on the stroke of half-time but visitors Palace equalised nine minutes before the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium when Yannick Bolasie’s shot from the edge of the box somehow evaded Petr Cech at the Arsenal goalkeeper’s near post.
The draw meant Arsene Wenger’s side failed to regain third place from Manchester City and were only four points in front of fifth-placed Manchester United, with just the top four clubs at the end of the season guaranteed Champions League football next term.
Sunday’s other Premier League match saw Liverpool move to within two points of the top six after a 2-1 win away to Bournemouth.
Fresh from their Europa League quarter-final win over manager Jurgen Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool scored twice towards the end of the first half at Dean Court through Roberto Firmino and England striker Daniel Sturridge.
Joshua King pulled a goal back in stoppage-time at the end of the match but it was too late for the Cherries, who nevertheless remain on course to avoid relegation.
Klopp fielded a much-changed side, with Danny Ward in goal instead of Simon Mignolet, and afterwards the Reds boss said: “They’ve never played together.
“Danny Ward was brilliant. Let the self-confidence grow of goalkeepers, they’re normal human beings.”