Leicester moved a step closer to fulfilling their improbable dream of winning the Premier League as Riyad Mahrez gave the surprise leaders a 1-0 win at Watford, while 10-man Arsenal rescued a 2-2 draw against title rivals Tottenham on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri’s side extended their lead over second placed Tottenham to five points thanks to the latest moment of magic from Footballer of the Year contender Mahrez.
The Algeria winger lashed a fine finish past Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes from just inside the penalty area in the 56th minute.
With just nine games remaining, the unfancied Foxes are closing in on the most unlikely title triumph in the history of English football.
“An important win, a big battle,” said Ranieri, who eased injury fears over Mahrez after he limped off in the final minutes.
“We are so happy. We wanted to show what we have inside. The desire is so high and we have a great opportunity.
“The title is not ours. We have to fight a lot and keep our feet on the ground.”
Leicester’s title charge had already received a boost earlier in the day when Tottenham squandered the lead in a pulsating north London derby at White Hart Lane.
With Gunners midfielder Francis Coquelin sent off after Aaron Ramsey’s 39th minute opener, Arsenal looked in trouble when Tottenham hit back with two goals in three minutes from Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane after the interval.
But Arsenal, criticised after successive league defeats this week, recovered to equalise through Alexis Sanchez with 14 minutes remaining.
“I am proud of the spirit, but going down to 10 men was the big regret for the day and it was hard to take,” said boss Arsene Wenger, whose side are eight points behind Leicester.
Although they wasted a chance to go top for the first time in seven years, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino was still satisfied.
“I am pleased. It’s true, when it was 2-1 I am little bit disappointed with the result, but we have to be happy we keep the three-point gap to Arsenal,” Pochettino said.
At Eastlands, Manchester City ended a run of three successive league defeats with a 4-0 rout of Aston Villa at Eastlands.
Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure broke the deadlock in the 48th minute and Sergio Aguero doubled the lead two minutes later.
Aguero struck again in the 60th minute and Raheem Sterling added the fourth six minutes later before Aguero squandered a chance for a hat-trick when his penalty hit a post.
Manuel Pellegrini’s fourth-placed side remain 10 points behind Leicester, while woeful Villa are slipping closer to playing in the second tier for the first time since 1988 after their fourth consecutive defeat.
– Beleaguered -Chelsea warmed up for their crucial Champions League showdown against Paris Saint Germain with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Stoke at Stamford Bridge.
With Diego Costa rested ahead of the last 16, second leg against PSG, who hold a 2-1 advantage, Burkina Faso forward Bertrand Traore bagged his fourth goal in his last five appearances in the 39th minute.
But Chelsea were pegged back five minutes from full-time when Stoke forward Mame Biram Diouf headed home.
Bournemouth piled more pressure on beleaguered Newcastle manager Steve McClaren with a 3-1 win over the crisis-torn Magpies at St James’ Park.
After a week that featured reports of a dressing room rebellion against McClaren, who also became embroiled in an angry exchange with a journalist on Friday, Newcastle fell behind in the 28th minute through Steven Taylor’s own goal.
Josh King increased Bournemouth’s lead in the 70th minute and although Ayoze Perez got one back in the 80th minute, it was too late for second-from-bottom Newcastle, who are one point from safety, because Charlie Daniels added the visitors’ third deep into stoppage-time.
“I’m very disappointed. That was definitely a poor performance and ‘going down’ material,” McClaren said.
West Ham staged a superb fightback to remain in the hunt for a Champions League berth with a 3-2 win at 10-man Everton.
Romelu Lukaku struck in the 13th minute and, despite Kevin Mirallas’s dismissal, Aaron Lennon doubled Everton’s lead in the 56th minute.
But Lukaku saw a penalty saved by Adrian and Michail Antonio reduced the deficit in the 78th minute.
Diafra Sakho equalised three minutes later and Dimitri Payet won it in the last minute.
Struggling Sunderland had to settle for a 1-1 draw at 10-man Southampton, while Swansea climbed nine points clear of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win over third bottom Norwich at the Liberty stadium.
Feature image source: AFP