MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Seven years after producing the biggest shock in Premier League history, Leicester is now trying to pull off a great escape.
The Foxes stunned the world of soccer by winning the league title in 2016 as a 5000-1 outsider. Now they are attempting to beat the odds once again by securing top-flight survival in a season when the threat of relegation has never been far away.
While a 1-1 draw with relegation rival Leeds on Tuesday did little to ease Leicester’s concerns, it showcased a fighting spirit that will be essential if the club is to avoid the drop.
“It’s optimistic because they are good players. We can be a good team,” manager Dean Smith said. “If we cut out the lapses of concentration from set-pieces we’ll be fine.”
Veteran striker Jamie Vardy rolled back the years by equalizing in the 80th minute after Luis Sinisterra had put Leeds in front.
Vardy was the talisman of Leicester’s title success, scoring 24 goals. As a substitute at Elland Road, he looked as lethal as ever when he swept a shot past Illan Meslier, but at the age of 36 he has become an increasingly peripheral figure.
Vardy’s goal on Tuesday was his first in the league since October.
How Leicester could do with a peak Vardy to help fire it to safety in the closing stages of the season.
“Pleased for him as it’s not been a fruitful season, but (it’s) nice to have him scoring with five games to go,” Smith said.
The draw against Leeds leaves Leicester one point and one place above the relegation zone, with the bottom three teams all having played a game fewer.
But Leicester can take comfort from the fact that it does have history when it comes to pulling off an escape act.
While the title success is rightly considered the greatest in the league’s history, the Foxes’ achievement the season before was remarkable in its own right when a run of seven wins in their last nine games saw them rise from the bottom of the table to avoid relegation.
Leeds is also in the thick of the battle to stay up, in 16th place, one point ahead of Leicester.
“The dressing room is really disappointed but we have a point and we have to play five games, being ready to be at our best,” manager Javi Gracia said.
VILLA IN FIFTH
Aston Villa had looked in danger of relegation when Unai Emery took over in October.
His predecessor Steven Gerrard had left the club after securing just two league wins, with the team one place above the bottom three.
Emery has turned Villa’s fortunes around in spectacular fashion, with Tuesday’s 1-0 win against Fulham moving it up to fifth and in contention to qualify for the Europa League.
Villa’s rise has come on the back of a run of 10 games without defeat, including eight wins.
Tyrone Mings scored the only goal of the game against Fulham.
“We are in the top 10. We are in the Europa position,” Emery said. “There’s still Liverpool and Tottenham and Brighton and we are going to fight with them but with each match we are winning, it is giving us confidence and chance to get there.”
WOLVERHAMPTON FEARS EASE
Wolverhampton is up to 13th after a 2-0 win against Crystal Palace, and top flight safety is within reach.
Joachim Andersen scored an own goal after three minutes and Ruben Neves struck from the penalty spot in stoppage time to secure the three points.
Julen Lopetegui’s team is now nine points ahead of the relegation zone after recovering from the setback of losing to relegation rival Leicester over the weekend.
“We are happy,” Lopetegui said. “Three days ago we were sad and today we are happy because we got a good victory against a good team. We had to suffer but we got the win.”
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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