Football: Mahrez magic keeps Leicester flying high

Algeria winger Mahrez (above, in a file photo) blasted an unstoppable shot into the top corner in the 56th minute.
Algeria winger Mahrez (above, in a file photo) blasted an unstoppable shot into the top corner in the 56th minute.PHOTO: AFP

WATFORD, United Kingdom (AFP) - Leicester took a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League as a wonderful strike by Riyad Mahrez sealed a 1-0 at Watford on Saturday that boosted their hopes of a fairytale title triumph.

Algeria winger Mahrez blasted an unstoppable shot into the top corner in the 56th minute for his 15th goal of a brilliant season.

That clinched a 17th win of the campaign for the Foxes, who took full advantage of a 2-2 draw for title rivals Tottenham and Arsenal earlier on Saturday.

Victory took Claudio Ranieri's men five points clear of second placed Tottenham and eight ahead of Arsenal in third with only nine games standing between the Foxes and a truly incredible title success.

Mahrez also has 11 assists this season to go with his impressive tally of goals and his latest moment of inspiration kept Leicester firmly in pole position.

Leicester signalled their intentions early on when a direct, forward pass by Marc Albrighton sent Jamie Vardy racing through on goal and forced Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes into a vital interception.

The visitors forced a corner soon afterwards and looked dangerous when Watford failed to clear it properly.

The ball fell to Christian Fuchs just outside the penalty and the defender saw his low shot beaten away by Gomes.

There was a scare for the home side, however, when Nathan Ake rose above Wes Morgan in the 11th minute to meet a right-wing free-kick and his header skimmed the top of Kasper Schmeichel's crossbar.

Leicester were pressing relentlessly and they forced another error that led to a chance for Vardy.

The England forward latched onto another ball over the top by Albrighton but fired wide of the far post from a difficult angle.

Ranieri thought his side were ahead in the 23rd minute when Vardy stole possession and fed Mahrez before bursting to the near post to meet the midfielder's cross.

But the normally lethal striker fired wastefully into the side netting when he should have broken the deadlock.

Watford should then have broken the deadlock three minutes later when Odion Ighalo's cross from the right found captain Troy Deeney, but his shot deflected through to a grateful Schmeichel.

After a scrappy spell in the run-up to half-time, Danny Simpson swung in a cross from the Leicester right after the Foxes kept alive a poor corner but captain Wes Morgan headed straight at Gomes.

Schmeichel had to race out of the area to head away from the onrushing Deeney in the final minute of the half following an under-hit header by Morgan.

Ranieri made a double change at half-time with Jeff Schlupp and Andy King introduced in a reshaped system.

But it was the home side who threatened first when Mario Suarez found himself on the edge of the box but his shot flew straight at Gomes.

Danny Drinkwater then found the ball at his feet 20 yards from the Watford goal after a smart Leicester passing move but he fired wide.

But the deadlock was broken on 56 minutes in spectacular style.

Fuchs' cross from the left was half-cleared by the head of Jose Holebas, but Mahrez picked up possession just inside the area and lashed a wonderful effort into the top corner.

Gomes then made an important save from a Robert Huth header and Ake cleared crucially from inside his own goalmouth as Leicester tried to press home their advantage.

Mahrez carved out another chance for himself with some fine footwork on the edge of the box, but his curling shot went through to Gomes.

The Foxes should have been punished for some hesitant defending with 10 minutes to go when the ball bounced around their box and fell for Ighalo, but the striker headed straight at Schmeichel.

And Hornets substitute Almen Abdi lashed a shot a fraction wide as Leicester became nervous.