It only took two minutes into Leicester City’s touchy clash against West Ham for God himself to remove all doubt about who He intends to crown Premier League champions next month.
As free-kick genius Dimitri Payet curled in a perfect cross, Cheikhou Kouyaté stooped his head to flick it into the net and started heading towards the corner flag to celebrate his impending goal. Only then, God not only extend Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel’s arm a couple inches to deflect the shot, but also squeezed the goalposts in, ensuring the ball would bounce off one post and onto the other, somehow failing to cross the line before Schmeichel could safely scoop it up—all of which would’ve been quite impossible short of divine intervention.
Not long after, Jamie Vardy gave the Foxes the lead with his 22nd goal of the season, and things were all set to follow the same script we’ve seen for weeks now, with Leicester cruising to another narrow victory and tightening what’s becoming on a vice grip on the EPL trophy.
Only things didn’t stay that way. Not even an hour into the game, Vardy did something really stupid. Chasing after a ball that had put him through into the West Ham penalty box, Vardy felt Hammer center back Angelo Ogbonna’s hand on his shoulder. Probably thinking to himself, Everybody wants us to win this fuckin’ league, so why shunnit I just fling meself into Ogbonna and then to the ground and let the ref gimme a bloody penooty? Vardy just flung himself into Ogbonna and then to the ground, expecting to dive his way into a penalty.
The ref, though, couldn’t let this stand. Not only did he not give Vardy the penalty, he showed the striker a yellow card for diving. It was his second yellow of the game, and so Leicester had to go the rest of the game minutes down a man. It looked like Leicester might’ve finally had their “Gerrard slip” moment.
And the ref wasn’t done. It was his controversial penalty call on Wes Morgan’s, uh, physical defending job on Winston Reid from which West Ham tied the game up. Morgan’s bearhug on Reid probably shouldn’t be allowed, but it was typical corner-defending behavior, and singling that moment out as worthy of a penalty was a little suspect. Not only that, the ref failed to award Leicester a very similar penalty shot in the same circumstances in the first minute of stoppage time, after a magnificent Aaron Cresswell blast had given West Ham the lead.
Eventually, though, even the ref would come around to support Leicester’s cause. In the very final seconds of stoppage time,
N’Golo Kanté Jeffrey Schlupp motored his way into the box. Carroll came over to challenge him and bumped Schlupp on the hip. Schlupp fell to the ground after what didn’t appear to be all that much contact, and the ref once again made a questionable decision, this time signaling a penalty for the Foxes. Substitute Leonardo Ulloa converted the spot kick and Leicester earned what could be a crucial point for their title defense.
All Premier League title-winning campaigns must share a few key traits: a backroom staff that has discovered and brought in talented players, a manager who’s organized the talent in a manner that maximizes their skills, and players who have devoted themselves to improving their games and executing their required roles as assigned by the manager. But even the richest of teams—to say nothing of a tiny club that unforeseeably happened into the top spot in the league midway through April—also need a few lucky breaks from the powers that be to finish the job.
Leicester’s luck is almost baked into their process at this point, as they continue to eke out wins from largely even contests with performances from players far exceeding what anyone could’ve reasonably expected. This weekend, the signs of the Soccer Gods and maybe even The One True God himself and their favor was especially evident. Even the referee, who threatened to yank away Leicester’s hopes of getting anything out of the match was turned into a helpful force for good by the end.
The FA appears to be working toward stymieing the best story in sports, as they’ve brought charges of improper conduct against Vardy for the way he reacted to his red card. While already suspended for next week’s match against Swansea because of the red, Vardy could be suspended another game if the charge is upheld. Judging from what we’ve seen so far this season, this too will somehow work out in Leicester’s favor, one way or another.