Sunday 10 April 2016 18:55, UK
Leicester took a huge step towards the Premier League title against Sunderland on Super Sunday. From front to back, the 2-0 victory bore all the hallmarks of their extraordinary season.
Any lingering doubts about whether Leicester could go the distance were blown away at the Stadium of Light. An emotional Claudio Ranieri left the pitch to chants of "we're going to win the league" from the buoyant travelling fans, and it is now difficult to imagine any other outcome.
How fitting that such a significant victory should arrive in this style. Leicester showed the patience and organisation that has typified their recent run of narrow victories for just over an hour in the north east, and when the hosts began pushing forward for a winning goal, the Foxes simply picked them off on the break.
Jamie Vardy's goals were classic Leicester. His opener - which made him the club's first player since Gary Lineker to score 20 goals in a top flight season - came after Danny Drinkwater received a Robert Huth header deep in his own half with his back to goal.
It looked like an innocuous position, but the midfielder turned Lee Cattermole with two quick touches and immediately sighted Vardy, who had taken up his usual position in the outside-left channel. Suddenly, Sunderland were vulnerable. Drinkwater's pass was perfect, and Younes Kaboul couldn't get close as Vardy angled his run inside and finished clinically with his right foot.
Simple but devastatingly effective counter-attacking. It was Leicester all over, and Vardy's second left Sunderland with a feeling of deja-vu. This time it was substitute Demarai Gray who made it, plucking Daniel Amartey's clearance out of the sky and sliding the ball forward, where Vardy had only one thing on his mind.
The 29-year-old outmuscled and outpaced Patrick van Aanholt to break free on goal, and he kept a cool head to round Vito Mannone and finish into Sunderland's empty net. "You leave space in behind and they will kill you for it," said Jamie Carragher in the Sky Sports studio. These were the kind of goals Leicester have been scoring all season.
"Leicester are brilliant at what they do," added Carragher. "Early on in the game Sunderland couldn't get out of their own half because they defended so deep to counteract Vardy's pace, but as soon as you step up that pitch you're just asking for trouble."
Vardy wasn't the only Leicester player to fulfil his duties to perfection. In midfield, they were boosted by another exceptional performance from N'Golo Kante. The Frenchman was the smallest player on the pitch at just over 5ft 6ins, but he dominated the centre of the park in towering style.
Just days after Ranieri commented that the midfielder plays like he has "a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts", Kante delivered a typically industrious display, covering more ground (11.86km) and making more high-intensity sprints (71) than anyone else on the pitch.
Kante was everywhere, popping up on the flanks, contributing in attack and defence and driving Leicester on as he has done all year. The 25-year-old ranked first for tackles (seven) and interceptions (four) at the Stadium of Light, and he also posted the second-highest passing accuracy of players to have started the game with 85.7 per cent.
He provided a perfect shield for a back five whose collective understanding is strengthening with every passing week. Leicester's defensive organisation has become more and more prominent in the second half of the campaign, and with the exception of Jack Rodwell's gilt-edged chance in the closing stages, Sunderland were largely nullified.
Kasper Schmeichel saved their only shot on target - a deflected effort from Fabio Borini in the first half - and Leicester held firm to keep their 13th clean sheet in the 23 games in which they have started with a back four of Danny Simpson, Huth, Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs.
Leicester's togetherness was epitomised by Marc Albrighton's hard-working display on the left-hand side, and there were similarly tireless shifts from Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez.
To a man, Leicester simply did exactly what was required. They are the most cohesive and effective unit in the Premier League, and with just five games of the season remaining, it's starting to feel like a question of when and not if they finish the job. "It is there on the table," said Ranieri, "and now we have to take it."