Harvey Barnes takes Leicester second with late leveller at Crystal Palace

It was a moment that called for clear thinking. As Leicester poured forward in the dying stages, desperately chasing the goal that would have lifted them a point behind Liverpool at the top of the table, control slipped away. With the minutes ticking away, they needed calm and ruthlessness: someone to pause, take a deep breath and cut through all that frenzied, demented running taking place near the Crystal Palace area.

Level through a stinging low drive from Harvey Barnes, Leicester had seven minutes to establish their title credentials. After failing to make their dominance count during a frustrating first half, they had responded after falling behind to Wilfried Zaha’s crisp opener for Crystal Palace. Roared on by their bench, they pinned Palace back, sprinted hard and hunting that one crucial opening.

Yet the cries grew more anguished as full-time approached. Thoughts drifted back to the first half and Palace’s goalkeeper, Vicente Guiata, denying Leicester an early lead when he saved Kelechi Iheanacho’s tame penalty. Careless in the final third, Leicester ended up playing against the clock, rushing the final pass and finishing rashly, never more so than when Ayoze Pérez slashed a wonderful chance over in the fourth minute of added time.

Time ran out as Pérez’s hurried effort sailed over. Not composed enough to capitalise on Liverpool’s slip against West Brom, Leicester ended up falling short despite rising above Everton into second place. “We’re disappointed with the result,” Brendan Rodgers said. “You’ve got to take your chances.”

The demands of the festive schedule also worked against Leicester, robbing them of a cutting edge in attack. A situation that required Rodgers to make seven changes to the side that drew with Manchester United on Saturday felt deeply unsatisfactory, hammering home the absurdity of asking elite athletes to play twice in the space of 48 hours.

If anyone benefited, though, perhaps it was the Palace defenders who were spared the task of keeping up with Jamie Vardy during the opening period. With Rodgers determined to keep his team fresh, Leicester rotated. Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana and James Maddison were missing, Youri Tielemans and Wilfried Ndidi stepped out of midfield and there was a lack of ruthless in an attack led by Iheanacho.

In normal circumstances it would have been Vardy stepping up to give Leicester a 17th-minute lead after James Tomkins’s foul on Luke Thomas, who had caught Palace napping with a surge from left-back. With Leicester’s leading scorer on the bench, however, spot-kick duties fell to a forward without a goal in the league this season.

Up Iheanacho stepped, angling his run towards the ball in a way that betrayed his intentions. It was unsurprising to see him place his effort at a decent height for Guiata, who got a strong hand to the ball.

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There would be more profligacy from Iheanacho when he headed over from four yards. Wastefulness was ruining Leicester’s composed approach play. When Pérez saw a deflected cross bounce off the bar, Dennis Praet fired over. “If you’re looking at the game over 90 minutes, I have to say I am pleased with the point,” Roy Hodgson, Palace’s manager, said.

Palace had also made changes, although perhaps that owed more to Hodgson needing to shake his side up after a worrying dip. Thumped 7-0 by Liverpool in their previous home game, they were awful when they lost 3-0 to 10-man Aston Villa on Saturday. Palace were content to sit back, although they did have a couple of openings before the interval. Andros Townsend wasted the best of them, steering Jeffrey Schlupp’s cutback wide, while replays showed they should have been awarded a penalty in the first half after Daniel Amartey’s handball was strangely not reviewed by VAR.

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita dives to his left to deny Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho from the penalty spot.

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita dives to his left to deny Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho from the penalty spot. Photograph: Marc Atkins/PA

There was more intensity from Palace at the start of the second half. Zaha had struggled during the opening period, giving the ball away too cheaply, but he remained the likeliest player to hurt Leicester. It was a different game once he started to find space to turn and dribble.

After 58 minutes Zaha dropped deep, turned cleverly and found Townsend on the right. Rather than stand back and admire his pass, he kept moving. Townsend whipped in a left-footed inswinger and Zaha was rewarded for gambling, ghosting to the far post unnoticed, perfectly placed to meet the cross with a fine volley.

Yet Palace, who are winless in five games, could not hold on. Leicester finally introduced Vardy and Barnes provided the spark, jinking to find space before drilling home from 18 yards. Emboldened, Leicester began the hunt for a winner, only for Pérez to fluff his lines. The prospect of a proper title race remains in the balance.


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