Burnley fend off Foxes to boost Europa League hopes
Goals from Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes gave Burnley a nine-point advantage over Leicester.
Burnley made it five successive top-flight wins for the first time in half a century as the prospect of European football at Turf Moor next season drew ever closer.
It is more than 50 years since the Clarets have been involved in a continental competition but their 2-1 victory over closest rivals Leicester gave them a nine-point advantage with only five games left. Provided Southampton do not win the FA Cup, seventh place would be enough for a spot in the Europa League.
Sean Dyche’s side did the damage in the first 10 minutes, former Foxes striker Chris Wood and defender Kevin Long putting them two up. Jamie Vardy’s 72nd-minute strike made it a nervy finish but the hosts held on.
Burnley had been reluctant to talk about the possibility of European football but after last weekend’s results, when they beat Watford and Leicester lost to Newcastle, the veneer slipped.
Chairman Mike Garlick addressed the issue in the matchday programme and admitted they have been looking at the logistics of what Europa League football would entail.
If there have been any second thoughts about whether a European adventure is really what Burnley want at this stage of their development, then those doubts clearly do not extend to the players judging by their lightning start.
Leicester, who gave a full Premier League debut to 20-year-old midfielder Hamza Choudhury, simply could not deal with the energy and physicality of the Clarets, although they did not help themselves.
Wes Morgan’s sloppy play allowed Ashley Barnes to play in Wood, who beat Kasper Schmeichel at the second attempt, and three minutes later it was 2-0 as Long headed in Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s corner for his first league goal for Burnley.
Leicester will surely argue Harry Maguire did not touch the ball and it should not have been a corner in the first place, but Burnley’s superiority was undeniable.
PICS: Celebrations in full swing after Kevin Long’s goal. 2-0 pic.twitter.com/pu7ExaU9fb— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) April 14, 2018
It took the Foxes 14 minutes to mount an attack, with Nick Pope making sure Riyad Mahrez’s deflected shot did not cross the line as he grasped the ball, and had Danny Simpson not headed away Matt Lowton’s cross then Wood would surely have grabbed a third for the hosts.
But Leicester slowly found their game and probably should have made at least one of their first-half chances count. In-form Vardy had two headers, one tamely wide and the other straight at Pope.
The keeper did superbly to block and then hold onto a Mahrez header after he got a run on his marker to meet Demarai Gray’s cross before, with the last action of the half, Mahrez curled a free-kick just wide.
England manager Gareth Southgate was among the crowd and would again have been impressed by Pope, who saved from Vardy in the 62nd minute as Leicester created their first real opening of the second half and proved a safe pair of hands all afternoon.
Referee Martin Atkinson waved away appeals for a penalty when Jack Cork appeared to handle the ball, with replays suggesting the Burnley man was just outside the box, while at the other end a wild challenge from substitute Kelechi Iheanacho on Aaron Lennon right on the edge of the area also went unpunished.
Moments later Iheanacho created Leicester’s goal, driving forward against a retreating Burnley defence before playing in Vardy, who smashed in his 20th of the season.
The visitors piled on the pressure but could not find an equaliser and suffered a blow in the closing moments when Schmeichel was hurt in a challenge by Barnes and had to be replaced.