Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's Premier League clash between leaders Leicester City
and West Bromwich Albion
at the King Power Stadium. For the hosts, it is another chance to take a step closer to the dream of winning the title this season, and with none of their closest rivals playing until tomorrow, they can put pressure on those below them with a win. West Brom have started to find a bit of form themselves, though, and won't make things easy for the Foxes. First things first, let's take a look at the team news...
LEICESTER STARTING XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, King, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy
LEICESTER SUBS: Amartey, Schlupp, Gray, Ulloa, Wasilewski, Schwarzer, Inler
WEST BROM STARTING XI: Foster; Dawson, Olsson, McAuley, Chester; Yacob, Gardner, Fletcher, Sessegnon; Berahino, Rondon
WEST BROM SUBS: Myhill, Anichebe, McClean, Gamboa, Lambert, Pritchard, Sandro
What can we make of those two sides, then? Well, there aren't many surprises in either as both Ranieri and Pulis largely stick with the teams that got them victories last time out. Leicester make two changes to the side that clinched that vital late victory over Norwich, with Simpson returning after suspension to replace Amartey and, crucially, Kante missing out in midfield through injury.
While others have stolen the majority of the headlines for Leicester this season, Kante's role in the middle of the park cannot be underestimated. The midfielder always seems to be there to break up attacks, getting a foot in or intercepting a pass and winning possession back for his side. It is absolutely vital to Leicester's style of breaking quickly, but he doesn't stop at that, popping up in some of the attacks too. He will miss the next two games with a hamstring injury, though, and King comes in to the side in his place tonight.
Aside from that, Ranieri has once again kept faith with the bulk of the team that has done well all season. The Italian boss is known in England as the Tinkerman, but Leicester had incredibly made just 22 changes to their starting XI all season prior to today's game, which is at least 14 fewer than any other side in the Premier League. He is certainly no longer the Tinkerman, then, and it is a very effective advert for keeping a settled team.
Two players who have been virtually undroppable this season are Mahrez and Vardy, who between them have scored more league goals (33) than 10 of the other teams in the top flight. Both are sure-fire nominees for the Player of the Year award, and it could well be a straight shootout between the two. For me, I'd give Mahrez the edge at this stage of the season, but another good scoring run for Vardy could nudge him back in front.
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As for the Baggies, their solitary change is an enforced one as Chris Brunt misses out due to the knee injury he sustained against Crystal Palace at the weekend. The Northern Ireland international was stretchered off in that game and could face a struggle to be fit in time for Euro 2016 should the suspected ligament damage prove to be as bad as first feared. He is replaced at left-back this evening by Chester, with Jonny Evans still not ready to return from a hamstring injury.
It is no surprise to see Pulis make minimal changes to his side following their performance last time out, at least in the opening 45 minutes. McAuley return against Crystal Palace and is deemed fit enough to start again despite the quick turnaround, partnering Olsson at the heart of the defence. On the opposite flank to Chester is Dawson, who scored his side's second goal in the victory over the Eagles.
was arguably the man of the match in that game, scoring one goal, creating another and clearing a Palace effort off the line late on to keep his side in front, and he unsurprisingly starts again this evening. He is joined in midfield by Yacob and Fletcher, while just in front of them will be Stephane Sessegnon, who had one of his best game for some time at the weekend. He linked up with the front two brilliantly and Pulis will be hoping for more of the same tonight.
That front two of Rondon and Berahino really looked to be gelling at times against Palace, which would be a huge boost for the Baggies. Rondon was a constant threat despite his failure to get on the scoresheet, while Berahino scored a wonderful third goal and hit the woodwork following his recent return to the starting XI. Pulis likened his absence to Leicester being without Vardy this season, and the youngster now appears to have his head back on the game. This is his third consecutive having not started a single game from October to February, and West Brom will be hoping that he returns to the sort of form that saw him score 20 goals last season.
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Leicester will have to overcome a West Brom side growing in confidence, then, but the Foxes will still go into this match as favourites to come away with all three points. Claudio Ranieri
has said that the club's immediate run of games will prove to be their toughest as sides look to sit back against Leicester and challenge the Foxes to break them down, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with that having had the luxury of being able to counter-attack for much of the season so far.
There is, of course, the pressure that will grow each week from now until the end of the season but, while there threatened to be a wobble at the weekend, Leicester seemed to have coped with that well so far. Whatever happens from now until the end of the campaign, this has been a season that will have surpassed anyone's wildest dreams, so even a slump now until the end of the season wouldn't be a total disaster. However, with the easiest run-in of any of the top four, there is an argument to suggest that Leicester really should win the title now, which brings with it a completely new type of pressure.
It is not just a new situation for the players either - Ranieri has never won a league title during his long managerial career. However, he would be in a brilliant position if his side pick up another three points today. They already hold a two-point lead over Spurs, but with Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City all playing tomorrow night, the Foxes have a great chance to pile the pressure on their title rivals today. Victory would send them five clear of Spurs, eight clear of Arsenal and a whopping 12 above Manchester City for 24 hours at least.
Of the top four, Leicester have one of the easier midweek games on paper too. Spurs face an away trip to rivals West Ham United, who are in fine form themselves, while City take on a Liverpool side who will be desperate for revenge following their League Cup final defeat on Sunday. Arsenal will be expected to overcome Swansea, but with serious questions being asked of the Gunners following their loss to Manchester United at the weekend, that is potentially a trickier tie than many might expect.
Tonight would have certainly been a different proposition for Leicester had they not got that late goal against Norwich on Saturday. The Foxes were far short of their best and, coming as it did in their first match after the last-gasp defeat to Arsenal, there would have been many claiming that their bubble had burst if they slipped up against the Canaries. In the end, though, Leonardo Ulloa's 89th-minute winner kept his side top of the table and gave Leicester a victory that bore all the hallmarks of a title-winning side.
That made it nine league home games in a row without defeat for Leicester, since their solitary loss of the campaign against Arsenal in September. That, incidentally, is their only defeat in their last 16 league games at the King Power and one of only two in a 20-match spell that stretches back more than a year. The Foxes can boast the best home points per game average in the Premier League this season and tonight are looking for a fourth consecutive league win in front of their own fans - something they haven't managed in the top flight since 1999.
Perhaps even more impressively, Leicester have now gone five games, or seven hours and 43 minutes, without conceding a league goal at the King Power. The last team to score past them here was Chelsea on December 14 in what proved to be Jose Mourinho's final game in charge of the Blues. Leicester had kept only one clean sheet in their previous nine home league games before that game, but are now on a run of five in a row.
It is a daunting task for the visiting West Brom, then, but while a week ago they wouldn't have fancied their chances of breaching that much-improved Leicester defence, Saturday's result will have given the Baggies some hope. Both they and Crystal Palace when into that match in poor form, both in front of goal and in terms of results, but it turned into an unlikely classic as West Brom raced into a three-goal lead inside 31 minutes before holding off a second-half fightback from the Eagles to secure a 3-2 victory.
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It was a win that lifted West Brom above Palace in the table and within striking distance of the top half. Should results go their way this evening then they could well climb into the top 10, but Pulis will no doubt be focusing more on three more points towards the 40-point mark. The Baggies are still five off that, although they should be able to breathe pretty easily considering that there is an 11-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.
West Brom fans will be forgiven for beginning to look up the table rather than over their shoulders, then, and there is certainly increasingly cause for optimism around the club. The return of Berahino to the starting lineup has coincided with back-to-back victories for the Baggies, following a run of five matches without a win. They have only lost one of their last five league outings, and a surprise victory this evening would give them three league wins on the bounce for the first time since November 2012.
There is still plenty to work on, though - not least the club's away form. West Brom have only won one of their last eight league games on the road, and although that came in their last away match against Everton, quite how they managed to win that game at Goodison Park remains a bit of a mystery. They have drawn three and lost four of the other seven games since a 1-0 victory over Norwich in October.
Despite their three against Palace, goals also remain an issue for the Baggies. Only Swansea and Aston Villa have found the back of the net on fewer occasions than West Brom this season, while they have attempted a league-low 82 shots on target in the top flight this season. All 10 of their victories in all competitions this season have come by a one-goal margin, although the last time they beat a team by more than one was against the league leaders at the time. They beat Chelsea 3-0 back in May, although the Blues had already won the title at that point.
When you consider their poor away form and poor record in front of goal, it is not surprising to discover that they have found it particularly difficult to find the back of the net on their travels. West Brom have scored just nine goals in 13 away games this season, which is second only to Newcastle for the lowest in the league. At the other end, though, only four teams have conceded fewer away goals, with West Brom having a better away defensive record than the likes of Leicester, Arsenal, Liverpool, West Ham and Manchester United.
Indeed, home and away, their defence has been a bit of a saving grace for them this season, which isn't particularly surprising considering who the manager is. They have conceded 34 goals in 27 games this season, which is the best record in the bottom half of the table. They are up against the league's top scorers this evening, though, so it should be given a real test here.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff at the King Power Stadium, which means that it is time for a prediction! Most of the signs point to a home win tonight, but it won't be straightforward for the Foxes. They found things difficult against Norwich, and West Brom are likely to pose an even sterner test than the Canaries did. Even so, with home advantage and the chance to move five points clear, I'm back Leicester to get the job done tonight - 2-0 to the home side!
There have been plenty of goals in the last two meetings between these two sides, with West Brom taking the lead on both occasions only to ultimately succumb to a 3-2 defeat. That was the case in the reverse fixture at The Hawthorns in October, when Rondon and Lambert were on the scoresheet for the Baggies, but that deadly duo of Mahrez (2) and Vardy secured the victory for Leicester.
Seven of the last eight meetings between these two sides have ended with the away side winning, and West Brom themselves are unbeaten on their last six visits to Leicester, including wins in each of their past four. They have never been beaten at the King Power either, with Leicester's last home victory against the Baggies coming at Filbert Street in January 1994.
The Baggies are one of seven bottom-half opponents left for Leicester to play in their final 11 games of the season, which is a big reason behind them being considered as favourites by many. Norwich proved that it will be difficult, but Leicester have picked up 33 points from a possible 39 against teams currently in the bottom half this season, with 10 wins and three draws from those 13 games. The omens are good.
We're just a couple of minutes away from kickoff now, but before we get started let me point you in the direction of the latest episode of our podcast The Dugout. Arsenal get the top billing this week for their defeat to Manchester United as we discuss whether the Gunners have blown their chance at the title. Have a listen while following the game!
KICKOFF: Here we go then! West Brom get us back underway for this match at the King Power. Ten of the last 12 sides to have been top at the end of March 1 have gone on to win the title, and a victory tonight would give Leicester a great chance of continuing that run.
Leicester have made a good, positive start to this match. They lacked some of the high-octane style that has made them so dangerous all season against Norwich last time out, but they look like they mean business tonight.
It has been pretty much one-way traffic in the opening exchanges so far, but West Brom have held firm up to this point, answering the early questions being asked of them by the Foxes.
A little better from the Baggies as they start to get their foot on the ball a little and settle into the contest. No chances for either side so far.
Mahrez shows his first piece of dazzling footwork as he dances between three players before being brought down by Yacob, who is a little fortunate not to be shown a yellow card.
CHANCE! The first hint of a chance arrives from the resulting free kick, but it is a waste from King. The cross is flicked to King in space on the left side of the area, but he takes a touch and lifts the ball well over the crossbar with no real conviction.
GOAL! Leicester 0-1 West Brom (Salomon Rondon)
Now then! West Brom take the lead with their first real attack of the game! Fletcher threads a lovely pass through, and Rondon takes advantage of Huth's lack of pace to steal in behind and then shrug the defender off. Schmeichel is coming out to meet the striker, but he slides it underneath the keeper to hand the Baggies a shock lead!
CHANCE! Almost an immediate response from Leicester! A corner is met by Huth, who plants a firm header towards the keeper. It looks like being an easy one for Foster to take, but Okazaki bursts in front of the keeper only to flick the ball over the top from close range.
The pressure is on Leicester now, then. They have come from behind to win in their last two meetings with West Brom, but the prospect of winning the Premier League title hasn't be dangling in front of them on either of those occasions. The hosts need to show character here!
It is worth noting that the Leicester fans, rather than groaning or falling silent when they went behind, instead immediately supported their side. They are clearly going to enjoy their current position whatever happens, and they will be hoping that feeds down onto the pitch.
Good work from Okazaki as he steals the ball from Fletcher deep inside the West Brom half, but having worked space to shoot, the striker's curling effort from just outside the area is well off target.
Here is the moment that separates these two sides as things stand - Rondon sliding the ball underneath Schmeichel having levered Huth off the ball.
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Again, it isn't really happening for Leicester at the moment. Foster is yet to be tested in the West Brom goal and the Foxes haven't been able to ask any major questions of the Baggies back four either.
Leicester come forward down the right flank, with Mahrez the main danger again. He first sends Drinkwater through and, after the subsequent cross is blocked, Mahrez has his own go, only to see Olsson get in the way of his delivery too.
CHANCE! Leicester have their clearest chance of the match so far as Mahrez crosses the ball into the middle, where Vardy finds himself in a bit of space. In truth, the England international should do better, but he can only glance his effort straight at Foster.
Leicester's pressure is beginning to grow now. Albrighton almost steals in down the right channel, but Foster is out well to block the cross from the byline at the expense of a corner.
This is Leicester best bit of sustained pressure so far. They win a couple of corners in quick succession, then a free kick, and then another corner...
GOAL! Leicester 1-1 West Brom (Danny Drinkwater)
Well, if you're going to win the title, you need a stroke of luck, and Leicester have just got a big one to level things up here! A corner is played short to Mahrez, who gives it to King, who in turn plays it on once more to Drinkwater. He lines up a shot from range that doesn't look to be causing many problems until it takes a huge deflection off Olsson and loops over the keeper and into the top corner. It may well go down as an own goal, but Drinkwater will claim it!
YELLOW CARD! Sessegnon becomes the first name in the book this evening for remonstrating with the linesman for what he perceived to be a foul.
Sessegnon got a long talking-to from Mark Clattenburg after that yellow card, but I've just seen the replay of the foul he was upset about and he has a point - Fuchs went in high and it was a dangerous challenge from the full-back which deserved a free kick and a yellow at the very least.
OFF THE BAR! Leicester are inches away from taking the lead! Drinkwater is the creator this time, making his way to the byline down the left channel before squeezing a cross into the middle. Vardy attacks it really well, but plants his header smack against the crossbar.
At the other end, Sessegnon feeds a peach of a ball right across the face of the six-yard box, which none of the Leicester players dare to touch. There is no-one on the end of it for West Brom either, though, and it runs all the way through to safety.
Leicester fans may have been a little worried for the first half-hour or so of this match having once again been struggling to break down the opposition, but they are looking a lot more dangerous right now.
SHOT! Chance for Mahrez as he nips in to collect a loose ball following a defensive mix-up from the visitors. Olsson does a good job of limiting his shooting opportunities, though, and in the end Mahrez lashes his effort well over.
Good work from Albrighton down the left flank as he bursts towards the byline and manages to squeeze a cross in, but there is no-one attacking the near post and Foster gathers it comfortably.
GOAL! Leicester 2-1 West Brom (Andy King)
They needed character, and they have provided it to complete the turnaround before half time! Albrighton whips a ball across from the left to Mahrez, whose first-time flick inside is the latest spark of magic he has provided this season. His touch finds King, who coolly sweeps the ball into the far corner.
We are into the second of two added minutes, by the way.
HALF TIME: Leicester City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Mark Clattenburg brings an end to the first half at the King Power Stadium, and it is another 45 minutes that only serves to add to the argument of Leicester being the real deal this season. The pressure was on the Foxes when they fell behind, but they fought back and lead at the break to put them on course for a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table.
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West Brom's opening goal came on their first, and in truth only, real attack of that half, with Rondon latching on to a through-ball from Fletcher, shrugging off Huth and sliding his finish underneath the onrushing Schmeichel. It was too easy as far as Leicester are concerned, but it is a decent piece of play from Rondon and a lovely pass from Fletcher.
Leicester initially struggled to respond, but they began to ramp up the pressure as the half progressed and eventually levelled things up shortly after the half-hour mark, albeit via a big slice of luck. Drinkwater's low long-range strike appeared to be going comfortably wide, but Olsson stuck out a leg and the ball deflected up and over Foster, nestling into the top corner.
The comeback was completed right on the stroke of half time as Albrighton's cross from the left found Mahrez, who touched the ball back inside with a lovely flick for King. The midfielder, in for the injured Kante, still had work to do, but he did it with aplomb, coolly sweeping the ball into the corner to send his side into the break ahead.
KICKOFF: We're back underway for the second half here as Leicester kick us off looking to secure this win and move five points clear at the top of the table.
A rather low-key opening couple of minutes to the second half here, with West Brom seeing a fair amount of the ball in the early exchanges. The scoreline means that they can no longer sit and frustrate Leicester - the onus is now on the Baggies to attack.
Mahrez is penalised for a handball right on the edge of the area, giving West Brom a free kick in a good position...
GOAL! Leicester 2-2 West Brom (Craig Gardner)
It is a beauty of a goal from Gardner to level things up once again! The midfielder makes it two goals in his last two games by curling his free kick over the wall and perfectly into the top corner. Schmeichel didn't move it muscle, but he wouldn't have got there anyway. Gardner couldn't have placed that much better.
SAVE! Again Leicester go in immediate search of a response, with Albrighton making progress down the left. He manages to get a shot away, but it is a routine save for Foster.
Vardy has won six penalties already this season - more than any other team in the league, yet alone any other player - and he goes down in the box again here. He was sandwiched a little by two defenders, but Clattenburg is right to shake his head.
Interesting battle between Rondon and Morgan here as the West Brom striker keeps the ball in the corner, before setting up a two-yard perimeter around it to prevent Morgan from coming in! Mahrez eventually comes to help his teammates and win Leicester a throw, though.
Gardner looks to produce another special strike from range as he drives one towards goal, but it flashes a couple of yards wide of the near post.
OFF THE BAR! Leicester hit the bar for a second time! Moments after Okazaki was inches away from connecting with one Albrighton cross, the same two combined again. The delivery from the left is good, and Okazaki leaps like a salmon to power his header towards goal. However, it rattles the crossbar on its way over and West Brom are left to thank the frame of the goal for the second time tonight.
Leicester's pressure is growing once again right now, which is an ominous sign for the Baggies. They have lost the last two meetings with Leicester having taken the lead in both of those games, and I wouldn't bet against the same happening here today.
We have half an hour remaining in this match and, while Leicester are still looking threatening and capable of getting a third, as things stand they would be handing Tottenham the chance to go top of the table tomorrow.
LEICESTER SUBS: The first changes of the night come from the home side as Ranieri brings on Saturday's match-winner Leonardo Ulloa and Jeffrey Schlupp in place of Albrighton and Okazaki.
SAVE! Oh my word! West Brom had bad luck with Leicester's first goal, but this makes up for it! Schlupp picks the ball up inside the area and drills a low strike towards the bottom corner that takes a deflection off Yacob. It could go anywhere, but flies straight into the gut of Foster, who wouldn't have stood a chance of saving it had it been a yard either side.
CHANCE! Big chance for West Brom at the other end of the pitch as they keep the ball alive at the back post and feed it back into a dangerous area. It drops to Rondon, but he fires over the crossbar from close range.
Time continues to tick away for Leicester, but one thing that we know about this side is that they will not give up until the final whistle blows. They still have 22 minutes to rescue a win here, and you'd have to think that they will create at least one more good chance.
As things stand, it is Craig Gardner's sublime free kick that will be giving Spurs the chance to move top of the table tomorrow.
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CHANCE! Vintage Vardy as he chases down a nothing long ball forward and robs McAuley of possession to race through on goal. The angle is against him, but he still tries to drive a low strike towards the bottom corner that Foster turns behind. Huth meets the resulting corner, but can't steer his header on target.
CLOSE! Another free kick leaves Schmeichel rooted to the spot, but this one swings narrowly off target. Fletcher had just rolled a short free kick to his teammate, with Leicester not alert to that, and Gardner's swerving effort almost sneaks in to the top corner.
SHOT! Gardner is oozing with confidence here. He goes for another long-ranger and it is another decent strike too, but this time Schmeichel appears to have it covered as it flies over the crossbar.
West Brom, to their credit, have not simply parked the bus since drawing level in this second half. They are seeing a decent amount of the ball and you can't rule out them winning the match in the closing stages either. It is on a knife edge right now, and I would be surprised if there wasn't at least one last big chance.
LEICESTER SUB: A final throw of the dice from Ranieri as Demarai Gray replaces Fuchs, which should see Schlupp drop to left-back.
CHANCE! Good chance for the hosts as they come forward down the left through Mahrez and Schlupp. The ball is fed into the box for Vardy in space, but it is on his weaker left foot and his scuffed strike fails to trouble the keeper.
WEST BROM SUB: Gardner, whose goal is enough to earn his side a point as things stand, is replaced by James McClean in West Brom's first change of the evening.
The tension is beginning to rise in the King Power Stadium, and even Morgan finds himself surging up the right wing in desperation for a goal here. He appears to win a corner from Chester, but the officials wrongly award a goal kick to West Brom.
CHANCE! Morgan is everywhere right now! Leicester keep up their pressure and do eventually win a corner, which drops to Morgan. He seems to have lost it with his first touch, but it bounces back to him off Olsson and it takes a big, big save from Foster to deny the skipper.
Leicester win a free kick in a good crossing position that is just too high for Ulloa. Who is there to keep it in on the left flank, though? Morgan. He flicks it off a West Brom man to win an attacking throw and keep the pressure up.
YELLOW CARD! Yacob goes into the book for a foul on Mahrez, giving Leicester another free kick in a good position...
...but it comes to nothing. It's going to take a late show again from Leicester if they are to win this match!
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.
WEST BROMS SUBS: A late double change for the visitors as Victor Anichebe and Sandro replace Rondon and Sessegnon.
CHANCE! Huge chance for Leicester to steal it so late! Mahrez nods the ball right across the face of goal and Ulloa looks destined to bundle it home, but he can't get anything on it!
FULL TIME: Leicester City 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
It is two dropped points for Leicester City, then! They are held to a 2-2 draw by West Bromwich Albion and, while it is enough to extend Leicester lead at the top of the table to three points, they can now be knocked off the summit when Tottenham travel to West Ham tomorrow evening. Leicester will be gutted not to have won this game having created enough chances and hit the woodwork twice, but ultimately the Baggies held out for a point that takes them 12 clear of the relegation zone.
It was the Baggies who opened the scoring this evening, with Rondon sliding the ball underneath Schmeichel after just 12 minutes having shrugged off a challenge from Huth. Leicester fought back, however, and were ahead before half time courtesy of Drinkwater's deflected effort off Olsson which will go down as an own goal and Andy King
's cool finish right on the stroke of the interval. West Brom were back level within five minutes of the restart, however, as Gardner curled a fine free kick into the top corner.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's action-packed match, which could have a big say in the title race as Leicester drop two points to West Brom. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction from both camps. We also have more live Premier League action for you tomorrow night, so be sure to check back in with us for that! From me, though, it is goodbye for now!