Morgan fuels Leicester's fairy-tale run

Football Football - Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City - Barclays Premier League - White Hart Lane - 13/1/16.
PHOTO: Reuters

Leicester City's Cinderella story continues to captivate.

The central narrative remains the same, but the leading character has been replaced.

A fading Jamie Vardy has passed the baton. Wes Morgan will take it from here.

The captain's contribution against Tottenham yesterday morning (Singapore time) was colossal.

Unheralded and often unappreciated, the hulking, defensive force is moving away from Vardy's shrinking spotlight and stepping into his own.

Morgan's storyline is less romantic than his striker's and certainly less explosive. A centre back's contributions rarely make for memorable highlights packages.

But the skipper, working in tandem with goalscorer Robert Huth, earned victory in a battle of so-called title challengers.

The billing was questionable because Tottenham clearly lack adequate support for Harry Kane.

Mauricio Pochettino must go shopping before Spurs' Champions League aspirations go south.

But Claudio Ranieri has similar scoring concerns; not with his substitutes, but with the main man himself.

Vardy's second half of the season is following a steady, and entirely understandable, downward trajectory.

His 11 goals in consecutive games were a remarkable feat, but a freakish one. By Vardy's own admission, Leicester are blessed with a decent, industrious, centre forward who was briefly elevated by remarkable world- class statistics.

Against Tottenham, he snatched at chances. He missed when he might have scored. In other words, there's a return to normality.

Vardy will fluff a few and score a few. He's an honest, committed trier, very much part of the English Premier League majority. The Midas touch belongs only to the smallest minority.

Like striker, like club, Leicester's fortunes were expected to mirror their mere mortal up front.

Four games without a win - and more than four hours without a goal in the Premier League - all felt like an inevitable correction, the beginnings of a dignified decline.

SOLID

But the Foxes beat Tottenham, scoring the winner after Vardy had gone off. Their refusal to budge, their unwillingness to freefall down the table, should now be attributed not to an immortal up front but a man mountain at the back.

Kasper Schmeichel produced terrific saves and Huth's thumping header stirred even the most pessimistic souls, but Morgan's defiance was utterly breathtaking.

All night long, the lean Kane buffeted the biggest, roundest chest in the league, banging into Morgan like a scrawny student trying to bluff his way past a Zouk doorman.

Morgan wasn't having it.

His rounded face and puffed cheeks give the impression of an immovable rock, an intimidating presence, certainly, but not a particularly nimble one.

But the 1.85m-tall, 93kg Morgan somehow defied his muscular bulk. He tracked the Spurs striker across White Hart Lane. Kane would not pass.

Born in Nottingham but playing for Jamaica, the defender's quiet transformation, which started under Nigel Pearson and accelerated under Ranieri, has been one of the understated highlights of Leicester's season.

His girth, a product of genes rather than a fondness for fish and chips, had tested his mobility in the past.

Mistakes were made. He was never going to win the sprint sessions in training, so he worked on his positioning instead.

Against Tottenham, he stayed so close to Kane, their jerseys appeared to be connected by Velcro. Whenever the Spurs man tried to turn, he ran into Leicester's great wall of torso.

The home crowd must have recognised the heavy frame with the light touch. Local legend Ledley King once defied his size to stick like a limpet.

But King was a defensive monarch in waiting, denied by chronic knee injuries. Much of Morgan's career was spent in low leagues.

If his rags-to-riches tale is not quite as compelling as Vardy's, it's no less meteoric. It may also prove more substantial in the final analysis.

Vardy and Riyad Mahrez launched Leicester's bubble, but only their defence is likely to stop it bursting.

Upcoming fixtures will follow the pattern at White Hart Lane, which witnessed plenty of pinball in midfield, but saw little of the wizards on either side.

Leicester's counter-attacking 4-4-2 concedes too much possession, which puts tremendous pressure on Morgan and Huth. Both are 31-year-old veterans. Both were faultless against Tottenham.

Huth scored from a flawless set-piece. Morgan stopped Spurs from doing likewise.

Ranieri has no other template beyond hitting the front two and hoping that the back two hold firm. As it stands, he probably has more faith in the latter.

So the most unpredictable of seasons is ready to embrace another fanciful chapter in Leicester's Cinderella yarn.

That glass slipper just will not break. And if the shoe fits, Morgan is the most likely to wear it.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 15, 2016.
Get The New Paper for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES