Late afternoon all! Sports Mole
's live Premier League coverage continues from Villa Park as Aston Villa
welcome Leicester City
. The home side, who are rooted to the bottom, are in desperate need of the points as they attempt to claw back some ground on the teams above them, but Leicester know that victory here would see them return to the top of the table. It is 20th against third in England's top flight and it has all the makings of a mouth-watering affair! Kickoff is in just under 30 minutes' time here.
Somewhat surprisingly, Villa have only won four of their 19 Premier League games against Leicester, but three of those victories have come in the last four meetings at Villa Park. Earlier in the season, Leicester came from two goals behind to win 3-2 in the reverse match at the King Power Stadium, but Villa were 2-1 winners when the pair met in this stadium last season.
Recent history also suggests that this will be a spicy and indeed fierce affair, with five red cards occurring in the last seven Premier League clashes between the two teams. Right, before we go any further, let me bring you up-to-speed with the all-important team news from Villa Park...
VILLA: Bunn; Bacuna, Okore, Lescott, Cissokho; Gana, Westwood, Veretout; Gil, Kozak, Ayew
LEI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy
So there we have it. Micah Richards is once again on the bench for Villa this afternoon, with Joleon Lescott and Jores Okore preferred at the back. Libor Kozak also keeps his spot in the final third ahead of both Scott Sinclair and Rudy Gestede
, while Idrissa Gana is also in the XI.
As for Leicester, Shinji Okazaki
is given a spot in the final third alongside Jamie Vardy, while Riyad Mahrez
will operate from the left. Robert Huth, fresh from his winner against Tottenham Hotspur, once again starts alongside the skipper Wes Morgan at the back. No surprises!
So there we have it. The two teams are in and we are now little over 15 minutes from kickoff. It has been a rotten season for Villa, with Remi Garde's side currently rooted to the bottom of the table, eight points from safety. They have only won two of their 21 league games this season, but one of those came on Wednesday as they beat Crystal Palace to end a 19-match winless league run. Here, they are looking to register successive league wins for the first time since May.
The omens are not great, however, with no team in Premier League history managing to survive after only taking 11 points from 21 matches. West Bromwich Albion only had 12 at this stage of the 2004-05 season, however, and managed to escape relegation. It is not just this season that Villa have struggled, especially at home. Indeed, they have only won 18 of their 80 league games at Villa Park since December 2011, which is a quite incredible statistic for a club of this size.
It will also not come as much of a surprise that Villa are the lowest scorers in the league this season with just 17 goals. Defensively, the statistics are not disastrous with 37 conceded, but a goal difference of -20 is the worst in the division. Fans aired their frustrations during the 1-1 draw at Wycombe in the FA Cup last week, but another league win here would give the supporters a boost!
In Villa's way here is a Leicester side that just will not go away. I mean that in the nicest possible way, with many expecting their challenge at the top to fail a long time ago. That has not happened and a 1-0 win at Tottenham during the week ensured that they would enter this round of fixtures in second position in the table. Manchester City have since taken that position, but victory for the Foxes this evening would see the club return to the top of the division.
The Foxes have the best away record in the league this season – collecting 24 points and scoring 22 times in 11 matches. They have also kept three successive clean sheets in the top flight and are bidding to make it four in a row for the first time since November 1974. Under Claudio Ranieri, many tipped Leicester to battle the drop this season, but it has been an incredible story.
Indeed, Leicester have only lost two of their 21 league games this season, while they have scored 38 times, which, entering Week 22, was the second-best record in the division. It had been claimed that they would struggle if Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez had a dip in form, but they have continued to pick up strong results. Can they win the title? Not for me. Can they finish in the top four? They have an unbelievable chance. But there is still a lot of football to be played!
PREDICTION! I fancy Leicester here, just. Villa will have been boosted by their win over Palace last time out, but they worry me at the back and the Foxes have so much talent in the final third of the field. I think it will be tight, but I fancy Leicester to return to the summit with a 2-1 win.
KICKOFF! The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Time for the football then - the hosts get things underway inside Villa Park...
... it must be said that there is a wonderful atmosphere inside the stadium this early evening. The home supporters have turned out in their numbers. It will be interesting to see which team dominates possession in this match. Leicester are more than happy to spend periods without the ball.
Vardy breaks away down the left for Leicester before attempting a cross into the box, but it rises over Bunn's crossbar. Incidentally, Bunn is starting his second Premier League match in a row, with Brad Guzan only on the bench. Guzan has been very suspect at times this season!
Plenty happening in the middle of the park at the moment as both sides battle for possession of the ball. You just get the feeling that the first goal - if there indeed is one - will be vital here.
Not an awful lot to report in either final third in the opening seven minutes, but Villa have had more of the possession and seem keen to feed the ball into Ayew whenever that is possible.
Vardy just checking what time his tea will be ready when he gets home tonight...
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Kozak attempts to set-up Westwood inside the Leicester box after a smart cross from Veretout, but Simpson is on hand to clear at the vital moment. Mahrez cuts inside down the other end before attempting to feed Vardy, but the ball trickles through to Bunn, who clears down-field.
Villa are making it difficult for Leicester to get things going in the middle of the park and that is resulting in a tight match with not too much happening in either final third. Gueye has been very busy in the midfield for Villa, with Drinkwater and Kante both challenged by the number eight.
CLOSE! Vardy has the clearest chance of the match thus far, but the England international's header from a deep free kick just drops wide of the post. Super effort there!
BOOKING! Bunn (Villa) is booked for a late challenge on Vardy after attempting to challenge the striker, who had slipped the home side's back four. Bunn is fortunate!
The resulting free kick is taken by Albrighton, but his effort is straight at Bunn.
The tempo has risen in the last couple of minutes and it is Leicester looking the most likely. Albrighton manages to slip away from the Villa midfield, but his long-range strike is charged down. Cissokho finds a low cross down the other end, but Morgan is on hand to clear down-field.
Albrighton delivers another super cross into the Villa box, but Lescott just manages to rise above Drinkwater and clear for a corner. One-way traffic at the moment it must be said.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Villa to take the lead as a mistake from Huth allows Kozak to go one-on-one with Schmeichel, but the striker cannot beat the stopper, who stays on his feet to make the save. Kozak collects the rebound, but Leicester get men back to clear!
Leicester do not make many mistakes at the back and Villa might be made to regret that missed chance. Kozak just did not have the pace to really drive clear of Huth there!
Leicester are in control of the possession as this first period continues to gather pace.
Just a reminder that three points for Leicester would see them return to the top of the table ahead of both Arsenal and Manchester City. Villa, meanwhile, really need to win. Draws are no good at this stage of the season and in fairness, Garde has sent out an attacking team tonight.
Veretout has been lively for Villa in the opening 28 minutes, with the midfielder prepared to deliver whenever he has possession in a forward area. Westwood tries the spectacular after meeting a cross at the far post, but his effort, on the volley, was always rising over the crossbar.
GOAL! Villa 0-1 Leicester (Okazaki)
Leicester take the lead in the 28th minute as Okazaki fires home from close range after Bunn had kept out a lob from Vardy. It was a wonderful save from Bunn, but Okazaki was first on the scene to bundle home and Bunn almost saved that one as well! The visitors lead at Villa Park.
'We're Leicester City and we're top of the league' sing the away fans. Indeed.
BOOKING! Cissokho (Villa) is booked and Leicester have a penalty at Villa Park as the French defender is adjudged to have blocked Mahrez's shot with his hand!
SAVE! Bunn dives to keep out Mahrez's spot kick! Drama!
Good grief this is some game at the moment! The home fans are in pieces!
The referee is not too popular with the home supporters at the moment, but Bunn did manage to keep out that spot kick. The home side then come close when Ayew meets a cross from Veretout, but the striker was in an offside position. Some period of the match at Villa Park!
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining and it has been a super 39 minutes of Premier League football. Is it just me or have we had a serious influx of goals over the last week or so? So many 3-3s in England's top flight and this one is buzzing along very nicely indeed.
Cissokho strikes one from outside the Leicester box, but his effort is straight at Schmeichel.
Villa have managed to regain control of the ball in the last couple of minutes, but they are just not creating in the final third of the field. Kozak has hardly had any service, while Ayew has been starved of possession up top. Ayew, for me, is comfortably Villa's biggest threat.
Villa continue to look for that high ball into the box and Okore manages to flick a header towards the far post, but Schmeichel is out to collect. Still 1-0 to the visitors at Villa Park.
Nice work from Gueye as the midfielder creates some space outside the Leicester box, but his effort was always rising over the crossbar. Not much longer to be played in this first period.
Two additional minutes to be played at the end of the first period.
HALF-TIME: Villa 0-1 Leicester
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with Leicester leading 1-0 courtesy of a close-range finish from Okazaki, who fired home in the 28th minute. Leicester had a wonderful chance to make it 2-0 just five minutes later, but Riyad Mahrez missed from the penalty spot following an Aly Cissokho handball. Villa, in truth, have really struggled to create anything of note.
STATS! Villa have actually shaded the possession with 56%, while they have had five attempts - two of which were on target. The home side's best chance fell to Kozak, but he could not beat Schmeichel from inside the box. Leicester, meanwhile, have hit the target with four of their seven attempts. There have also been two yellow cards here - Bunn and Cissokho both in the book for Villa.
BENCH WATCH! Villa boss Garde does not have many experienced options on his bench this evening, but Sinclair and Gestede will both be hopeful of playing a part in the second period. Leicester, meanwhile, have exciting young talent Demarai Gray on their seven-man bench, in addition to the likes of Andy King, Ulloa and Inler. Who said that Leicester do not have much in reserve?!
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RESTART! Here we go then - both sets of players re-join us on the pitch for the second period. Can Villa respond on home soil? We shall soon find out. Leicester resume the action here...
... no changes from either manager at the break, which is not too much of a surprise. However, I suspect that alterations will take place if the score remains 1-0 for the next 20, 25 minutes here. Villa really need one of their forward players to come up with something special.
Albrighton has a go from long range, but his effort was always travelling high.
Super work from Gueye as the Villa midfielder chases down Mahrez and makes a fine challenge with Leicester on the break. Cissokho continues to take up good positions for the home side, but the full-back's delivery has been very disappointing. It has to be much better in the final third.
Garde continues to prowl the touchline alongside Ranieri, who looks pretty calm at the moment, with his team, as it stands, heading back to the top of the table. It has just been an incredible season for Leicester. Where will it end? Will it end? No-one is quite sure at the moment!
SAVE! Cissokho collects a super flick from Gil before striking on goal, but Schmeichel is on hand to make a smart save. Good pressure from Villa in the last few moments!
Villa are giving it a real go at the moment as they box Leicester into their own half.
Leicester have hardly had the ball in the last five or so minutes, but Villa are struggling to seriously penetrate the visitors here. Ayew goes for the spectacular inside the box, but his attempt is blocked, before Veretout has a cross blocked. Little over 30 minutes remaining here.
Kozak has struggled up top for Villa this evening and you sense that Gestede or Sinclair might offer more in the final third of the field. Leicester manage to break away with Simpson, but his cross is blocked for a corner. The visitors are preparing to make their first change of the match...
... SAVE! Bunn does brilliantly to tip a Drinkwater effort over the bar!
LEICESTER SUB! De Laet replaces Okazaki for the away side.
Villa have a shout for a penalty as Kozak goes down in the box under a challenge from Huth, but the referee is not interested. There was an arm into the face of the big striker there!
You still sense that there is something in this game for Villa, who have options on the bench and it would not be a surprise to see alterations made in the next five or so minutes here.
Leicester really should be 2-0 up here...
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SAVE! Chance for Bacuna this time as Ayew feeds the Villa full-back, but his low attempt is straight into the arms of Schmeichel, who collects at the second time of asking!
CHANCE! Vardy goes through on goal for Leicester, but he takes it too wide of the goal, eventually finding Drinkwater, whose effort is wide of the post. Chance on the counter there!
VILLA SUB! Gestede replaces Gil for the home side.
Kozak meets a free kick from the left, but the big Villa striker heads over the bar!
LEICESTER SUB! Ulloa replaces Mahrez for the away side.
Little under 20 minutes of football remaining at Villa Park and Leicester have some defending to do if they are to record all the points that would take them to the top of the league table.
A low cross from De Laet finds Ulloa inside the Villa box, but the striker's first touch is poor and Villa manage to clear the danger. Leicester are so dangerous on the counter attack here.
Fuchs takes a risk with a header back to his own goalkeeper, but Schmeichel managers to gather as Leicester continue to resist the pressure. Little over 15 minutes remaining here.
GOAL! Villa 1-1 Leicester (Gestede)
Finally! Villa are back on terms here as Gestede's deflected effort finds its way into the top corner! It struck Morgan's hand and ended up in the back of the net. Lift-off here!
BOOKING! Huth (Leicester) is booked for dissent.
Wonderful atmosphere inside the stadium at the moment and there is no question that Villa deserve to be on terms as we approach the final 10 minutes. They have been much the better team in this second period and they have a little bit of luck as Okore's defensive header drops just wide!
It is Villa that continue to threaten and with Gestede and Kozak up top, it will come as no surprise that long balls are being delivered straight into the box. Aerial bombardment here!
Bacuna and Vardy go head-to-head and that brings a scramble between both sets of players. The referee might be getting his cards out now - there are some handbags out there!
BOOKINGS! Vardy (Leicester) and Bacuna (Villa) are both booked.
LEICESTER SUB! Gray replaces Albrighton for the away team.
CHANCE! Kozak lifts one over the Leicester crossbar from close range!
Villa continue to surge forward and we are far from finished here...
... FIVE added minutes here!
Vardy breaks away for Leicester, but can only fire wide from a tight angle.
Both teams are sharing possession of the ball as we approach the final moments, but it does appear that the points will be shared. On balance, that is probably a correct result.
VILLA SUB! Sinclair replaces Ayew.
FULL-TIME: Villa 1-1 Leicester
So there we have it. Leicester go top of the Premier League courtesy of a 1-1 draw at Villa, who battled back to gain a point on home soil. On balance, a share of the spoils was a fair outcome. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action once again. Until next time!