Manchester United 1 Leicester City 1
Wes Morgan, the uncompromising journeyman defender who embodies the sheer romance and magnificence of Leicester City’s Premier League title assault, scored the vital goal that edged Claudio Ranieri’s most unlikely of champions ever closer to their dream.
One year ago to the day, Leicester were mired one point and one position above the relegation zone, three points behind a Hull City side that would eventually exit the Premier League.
Today? Leicester City are a fabled story around the entire sporting planet, a by-word for belief and the fairytale dreams which bind so many of us to sport in general, and football in particular.
If ever a player summed up what Leicester are about, it is their captain Morgan.
Not the most pleasing player on the eye, perhaps, the 6ft, 14-stone-plus Jamaica international is nearly 600 games into a professional career that has been spent mostly outside the Premier League, predominantly with Nottingham Forest.
Yet growing Premier League talents like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, save for his early shot that gave United the lead, and more established stars like Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, found no way past Morgan and his superbly-marshalled defence.
And when Danny Drinkwater’s 17th-minute free-kick flew menacingly into the United area, Morgan shrugged off the attentions of his marker Marcos Rojo with embarrassing ease and headed past David de Gea, the best goalkeeper in this or possibly any other league.
Such is the stuff of Premier League legend although in this, unforgettable season for the ages, the goal probably will not merit a place in the top dozen moments of the campaign for Leicester and their delirious supporters.
“He is fantastic, he has made a fantastic season for us,” said Ranieri of Morgan whose only other goal this season earned three points against Southampton at the start of last month.
“But I am very, very confident with him. He is fantastic, with his feet, with his head. He is a great leader — fantastic.”
Morgan had needed to be fantastic in an opening quarter of an hour when United had threatened to sweep their opponents aside and Leicester, without the outlet and threat of the suspended Jamie Vardy, looked nervous for possibly the first time this season as if they could finally feel the sheer weight of history.
After seven minutes of almost non-stop United pressure, Antonio Valencia skipped past Christian Fuchs far too easily and stood up a perfect cross to the far post where Martial drove through Kasper Schmeichel who should have done more to get in the way of the ball.
This was not in the Hollywood script that has been commissioned about Leicester and Vardy’s season but, to their credit and in keeping with their status as champions-elect, Leicester responded.
“I am so happy because we drew against a fantastic Man United,” said Raineri. “They play so well. At the beginning it was amazing.
“We suffered a lot because they press so high. Without Vardy it was difficult to stretch the line. I am very pleased with our performance after the goal. We keep calm and score a goal.
“After that, we get a lot of confidence and play better. After that, it was another match — they can score, we can score.
“At the end it is a draw. I am very happy.”
Although Ranieri’s charming, basic English might not have done such a spellbinding game justice, this was an accurate assessment of what followed the two goals.
Danny Simpson slipped, allowing Jesse Lingard to streak towards goal on the half hour, with the United man falling under slight contact from the recovering Leicester defender — an incident which might have brought a free-kick and red card on another occasion.
Marouane Fellaini elbowed Robert Huth at a set-piece although either player might have been sent off after video evidence suggested the Leicester man pulled his opponent’s hair.
The influential Riyad Mahrez appealed for a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Rojo and, later, Leicester’s magnificent playmaker had a wicked shot punched to safety by De Gea.
In an increasingly edgy finale, Chris Smalling headed just wide from a Rooney cross and Danny Drinkwater tripped substitute Memphis Depay on the edge of the area with TV footage failing to settle whether Michael Oliver was correct to award a free-kick or whether United should have had a spot-kick.
What was undisputed was a second yellow for Drinkwater who will now miss Leicester’s potential coronation against Everton on Saturday — and possibly more games, as he appeared to swear at the referee as he left the field.
“I have said to my players that I have seen one of the best matches of the season from my line-up, I think,” said United manager Louis van Gaal. “But it was not enough.”
For Morgan and Leicester City — the people’s champions — it will be precisely enough, should their closest rivals Tottenham fail to beat Chelsea tonight.
MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Valencia 8, Smalling 6, Blind 6, Rojo 5; Carrick 7, Fellaini 6; Lingard 6 (Mata 61, 7), Rooney 7, Martial 7 (Herrera 75, 6); Rashford 5 (Depay 82).
Subs (not used): Romero, Schneiderlin, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah.
LEICESTER (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel 7; Simpson 6, Morgan 9, Huth 8, Fuchs 6; Mahrez 7 (King 88), Kante 6, Drinkwater 8, Schlupp 7 (Albrighton 77, 6); Okazaki 6 (Gray 67, 6), Ulloa 6.
Subs (not used): Amartey, Wasilewski, Chilwell, Schwarzer.
Referee: M Oliver 6.
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