Ulloa saves Leicester point as Vardy sees red in chaotic draw vs. West Ham
LEICESTER -- Three quick thoughts from Leicester 2-2 West Ham as Jamie Vardy scored and was later sent off for the title hopefuls.
1. Ulloa rescues a point as leaders suffer a scare
The title race is back on after Leicester dropped points in controversial circumstances.
Claudio Ranieri's team, who had Vardy sent off, needed all their trademark resilience to even grab a point in this one, Leonardo Ulloa stepping up to score a penalty in the fourth minute of added time after Andy Carroll and Aaron Creswell had threatened to truly derail the home side's title charge.
Vardy netted the opener but picked up two yellow cards, the latter for diving, and will miss the visit of Swansea next.
West Ham wore the home side down and equalised with seven minutes left following a Carroll penalty after Wes Morgan grappled with Winston Reid from a corner. Three minutes later, Cresswell pounced on a weak clearance and gave the visiting side the lead.
The home fans cast referee Jon Moss as the villain, the official quick to award West Ham a penalty for a challenge that often goes unpunished. Foxes' supporters were indebted to him, though, for pointing to the spot deep in injury time when Jeffrey Schlupp fell under Carroll's challenge.
Ulloa held his nerve and scored the penalty, sparking delirium at the King Power. Leicester had saved a point, but it opens the door for Tottenham ahead of Monday's trip to Stoke. Win there and the gap is five points.
West Ham started well and gave Ranieri's men an early scare when Dimitri Payet looped a free kick into the area and Cheikhou Kouyate's header was touched by Kasper Schmeichel before it hit one post, spun agonisingly along the line, hit the other and rebounded into the goalkeeper's hands.
The home side began to get on top quickly, though. They opened the scoring after 18 minutes when Schmeichel's long throw found Riyad Mahrez near the halfway line. The Algerian spun around and played a superb through ball to the surging Kante.
As West Ham backpedalled, Vardy held up his run and waited in the inside left position on the edge of the area. Kante eased the ball in front, Vardy took a touch and stroked the ball into the far corner. It was a classic predator's goal made simple by the pace of the break. Vardy scoring, Leicester winning without conceding -- it seemed like just another day at the office.
And then the tide turned. Vardy controlled the ball superbly 35 yards out and took off for goal. Angelo Ogbonna chased him into the area and both men went down in a tangle of legs. Moss, the referee, went for his pocket and produced a yellow card, Vardy's second. The hosts deemed it a huge injustice and it was compounded when West Ham were awarded a penalty with seven minutes to go.
Morgan blocked off Reid from a corner and the referee pointed to the spot. Despite vehement Leicester complaints, Carroll's composed penalty leveled the scores.
Three minutes later it looked like Leicester were about to have a serious wobble. Cresswell was lurking on the edge of the area from another West Ham set piece and pounced on Morgan's headed clearance before scoring with a shot from the corner of the 18-yard box. It would have been Leicester's first defeat in eight matches but, in the chaos of West Ham's penalty area, Carroll collided with Schlupp and the nerveless Ulloa salvaged a point for Ranieri's team.
So, a ray of hope for Spurs but Ranieri will feel, ultimately, it was a point gained not two points lost.
2. Vardy red for diving sparks Foxes' jitters
Vardy's sending off was a crushing setback for Leicester. The striker is one of the club's three candidates for the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award and this was the perfect time for Mahrez and Kante, his rival candidates, to step up and lead the way -- as exemplified by the trio combining for his opener.
Mahrez has a brilliant touch, splendid vision and dribbling skills that leave opponents bemused. The little pirouette and delicate ball he produced to help set up Vardy were perfect examples of how his intelligence can take players out of the game.
Kante is more known for his destructive qualities than creating goals. He disrupts the opposition, harries rival midfielders and hunts the ball down relentlessly. His passing -- like the perfectly weighted ball for Leicester's first goal after Mahrez's fine work -- often goes unnoticed.
The final 35 minutes only served to underline Vardy's importance and losing him as the pressure is turned up a notch could be vital in the title race. The 29-year-old is a man in his prime. He is too quick for most defences, takes his shots early and hits the ball with the confidence of a player who expects to score. His movement is superb and no opponent can afford to switch off when he is around.
West Ham looked significantly more comfortable after his red card, and Mahrez's effectiveness dwindled once the hosts were inferior numerically. Without his partner's movement, he looked a little lost. Kante, who had ran the midfield alongside Danny Drinkwater in the first half, was now chasing shadows.
Is either man as important as Vardy? No. The striker has been the key to Leicester's title challenge, and without him they lack a razor-sharp edge.
They can ill afford to be without him, even though the title is still within reach.
3. Carroll's destructive side
West Ham seemed to have run out of legs and conviction in April. Draws with Crystal Palace and Arsenal left their Champions League hopes in ruins and Manchester United knocked them out of the FA Cup with a 2-1 victory at Upton Park in midweek.
Slaven Bilic's side have looked tired mentally and physically in recent weeks. Had they played like they did on Sunday, however, they might be worrying Manchester City and Arsenal about their top-four status.
They started well and were unlucky not to go in front in the opening minutes when Kouyate hit both posts. Carroll was introduced at half time for Pedro Obiang and immediately made a difference, going close from a corner in the second period's opening exchanges.
Once Leicester went down to 10 men, West Ham began to get a foothold in the midfield. In the first half, Mark Noble and Kouyate had been outmatched by Kante and Drinkwater. Now, their energy returned and they chased and harried the home side in pursuit of an equaliser.
Carroll's presence caused havoc in the Leicester area and both West Ham goals were a direct consequence of the big striker's disruptive effect. Unfortunately, Carroll was as destructive in his own penalty area, conceding a penalty late on to undo his efforts in attack.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.