LONDON: Leicester City closed the gap on Premier League leaders Liverpool as Jamie Vardy extended his red-hot streak with a brace in Sunday’s record-breaking 4-1 rout of Aston Villa.
Brendan Rodgers’ second-placed side moved within eight points of Liverpool thanks to goals from Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans at Villa Park.
Jack Grealish had reduced the deficit to 2-1 late in the first half, but Leicester cruised to an eighth consecutive top-flight victory, setting a new club record that smashed the previous best from the 1962-63 season.
Vardy has now scored in eight consecutive Premier League appearances and is the competition’s top-scorer with 16 goals this term.
The 32-year-old striker’s blistering run has given him a chance of equalling his sequence of scoring in 11 successive matches during Leicester’s 2016 title-winning campaign.
Leicester’s surge up the table, after 12 wins from their last 14 league games, has made them unexpected title contenders again and leaves them in position to qualify for the Champions League.
Jurgen Klopp’s men remain heavy title favourites and the acid test of Leicester’s credentials will come with successive fixtures against Manchester City and Liverpool over Christmas.
There was a minute’s applause before kick-off to a show of respect to former manager Ron Saunders, who guided Villa to the First Division title in 1981 and died on Saturday aged 87.
Once the emotional tributes were paid, Villa should have taken the lead when Matt Targett’s low cross picked out Anwar El Ghazi, but he fired against the bar from close-range.
Vardy maintained his superb form to put Leicester ahead in the 21st minute.
Latching onto a fine pass from Iheanacho and, with the injured Tyrone Mings unable to sprint back, Vardy had space to round Heaton before stumbling over the ball. Quickly recovering his footing, the striker glided past Ezri Konsa to slot home from inside the six-yard box.
After bagging the winner against Everton last Sunday, Nigerian forward Iheanacho struck again in the 41st minute.
Teed up by a sweeping Leicester move, James Maddison surged into the Villa area and delivered a fine cross that Iheanacho turned in from close-range.
Grealish gave Dean Smith’s side a lifeline in first half stoppage-time when Villa’s captain shot past Kasper Schmeichel after Leicester failed to clear.
But Evans restored Leicester’s two-goal advantage in the 49th minute when the defender met Maddison’s corner with a towering header for his first goal since February.
Vardy put the result beyond doubt in the 75th minute as he raced clear of the Villa defence to drill past Heaton.
Newcastle United fought back to make it two consecutive wins with a 2-1 success against Southampton.
Danny Ings gave Southampton a 52nd minute lead at St James’ Park, the striker running onto Jack Stephens’ long pass to notch his fifth goal in his last five appearances.
But Newcastle were level in the 68th minute when Jonjo Shelvey headed in substitute Andy Carroll’s cross, giving the midfielder three goals in his last three games.
And Federico Fernandez won it with three minutes left when he tapped in after Sean Longstaff’s long-range effort was fumbled by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.
Newcastle are up to 10th place, while Southampton sit third bottom.
Sheffield United came from behind to win 2-1 at second bottom Norwich City.
Norwich took the lead in the 27th minute through captain Alexander Tettey’s powerful finish for his first Premier League goal since 2016.
Enda Stevens equalised for United in the 49th minute with a header from George Baldock’s cross.
And Baldock went from provider to scorer three minutes later when he twisted into space before blasting home.
Chris Wilder’s eighth placed team thought they had been reduced to 10 men in the 74th minute.
But Chris Basham escaped with a booking after initially being shown the red card for his foul on Kenny McLean before a VAR review.
LIVERPOOL ROMPING CLEAR AS CITY DEFENCE IMPLODES
On Saturday, Liverpool took a giant step towards their first title since 1990 when their 3-0 win at Bournemouth combined with Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Manchester City to leave the champions 14 points adrift of the Premier League leaders.
City’s title defence is imploding in a way Pep Guardiola has never experienced before.
Losing to United left City with 32 points — Guardiola’s lowest haul after 16 matches in 11 years in top-flight management.
Any fading prospect of a hat trick of titles looks to have been extinguished by City’s fiercest foe in a game marred by United players being targeted with racist abuse and objects thrown by home fans.
United, who beat Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, blew City away with a dazzling first-half performance at the Etihad, which was capped by a VAR-awarded Marcus Rashford penalty and a strike from Anthony Martial.
Although David De Gea had to be at his sharpest to keep City at bay after the interval, when City scored through Nicolas Otamendi, United were well worth their victory — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first as player or manager in a Manchester derby.
“We’ll remember this one, we look so dangerous when we get the ball and go forward against arguably the best team in the world,” said Solskjaer.
The match was overshadowed by unsavoury incidents, with United midfielder Fred hit by objects thrown from the crowd and footage on social media appearing to show a City fan making monkey chants.
Liverpool, who won 4-0 on their previous two visits to Bournemouth, again shuffled their side, making seven changes from the midweek Merseyside derby.
Two of Liverpool’s lesser lights, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita, responded with goals before Mohamed Salah completed the formalities in a win which saw Liverpool keep a clean sheet for the first time in 14 games.
The goal of the day came at Tottenham where Son Heung-min ran scored a dazzling solo goal after running from one of the field to the other in a 5-0 victory over Burnley for Jose Mourinho’s sixth-placed team.
Although Harry Kane scored twice to make it eight goals in nine games against Burnley, Son took the headlines with a superb effort that started just outside his own area and saw the South Korean slalom through half the opposition before slotting home from inside the box.
Lucas Moura and Moussa Sissoko completed the scoring against a Burnley side who have conceded nine goals in four days.
New manager Nigel Pearson watched from the stands as Watford halted a three-game losing run by drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace.
Watford have won only once in the league this season and sit at the bottom of the standings, while Palace are in eighth place.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019