Leicester City almost cement a Champions League place after beating Crystal Palace 2 – 1. Wilfried Zaha put the visitors ahead after only 12 minutes, with a first-time finish following a fine through ball from Eberechi Eze. Leicester City moved closer to Champions League qualification as they came from behind to beat Crystal Palace.
But Timothy Castagne equalised for the Foxes within five minutes of the second half by firing the ball into the roof of the net after being set up by Kelechi Iheanacho. Palace nearly retook the lead but a superb sliding challenge from Jonny Evans denied Christian Benteke what would have been a tap-in into an unguarded goal.
That missed chance proved crucial as Iheanacho scored his 12th goal in nine games, when he cut inside on to his left foot and blasted the ball past goalkeeper Vicente Guaita for a late winner.
The result leaves the Foxes third in the Premier League, but takes them seven points clear of fifth-placed West Ham with five matches to go.
Leicester, who have also reached the FA Cup final for the first time since 1969, have only played in the European Cup or Champions League once, reaching the quarter-finals in 2016-17 after winning the Premier League the previous season.
Their run-in includes games against Manchester United in second, Chelsea in fourth and Tottenham in seventh.
‘Evolved’ Leicester on course for Champions League
After 33 matches of the league campaign, Brendan Rodgers’ side again find themselves third, just as they did in 2019-20.
However, last season they lost three of their final five games as they finished fifth to miss out on a top-four spot by four points. Before the game, Rodgers said his side had improved and “evolved” compared to a year ago, but would have been worried by old concerns and a lacklustre first half performance.
But it was an instant improvement after the break as Castagne’s first goal at the King Power Stadium made it 1-1 following fine hold-up work from the impressive Iheanacho.
The Foxes ended strongly as Jamie Vardy, who had missed two chances when it was goalless, had a shot blocked by Guaita, fired just wide and had a goal correctly disallowed for offside.
Youri Tielemans also missed the target when well placed but they finally got their second when Iheanacho produced some fine skill to get the ball on to his left foot and gave Guaita no chance from 10 yards.
The victory means Leicester, who were not one of the ‘big six’ English teams to sign up to the European Super League before the tournament plans collapsed two days later, now need three more wins to guarantee Champions League football.
Palace’s season ending tamely
Palace stay 13th, but are 11 points clear of the relegation zone and surely safe from avoiding a drop into the Championship.
But Eagles’ fans may be left ruing what might have been from this season after they were seventh following eight matches, only three points off the top.
Inconsistent form and a run of injuries have severely damaged their hopes of a top-half finish for the first time since 2014-15 and they have now only picked up six points from their past seven matches.
They had not been in action since 10 April, while Leicester had played three matches in that period, including an FA Cup semi-final win over Southampton to set up a final against Chelsea next month.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson said before the game he was unsure whether the break would have benefited his team, although they made a great start, scoring early on. Benteke dispossessed Tielemans with a strong challenge on the halfway line, Eze had the quality and pace to run at the home defence, before sliding a perfectly weighted pass into Zaha’s path with the Ivorian slotting the ball past Kasper Schmeichel.
After conceding, the visitors had a glorious chance to retake the lead as Jairo Riedewald was through on goal but opted to pass it square to Benteke and that enabled Evans to make a fine challenge to deny the Belgian.
But Iheanacho’s late goal saw Palace leave empty-handed as their season is ending in tame fashion.
Leicester play at Southampton on Friday (20:00 BST), a fixture the Foxes won 9-0 in 2019-20 when they equalled the record for biggest victory in Premier League history. Crystal Palace entertain league leaders Manchester City on Saturday (12:30 BST).
Source – BBC News