LONDON (AFP) - Riyad Mahrez moved Leicester one step closer to pulling off the most remarkable title success in decades with the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri’s side sit eight points clear at the top of the Premier League after Algeria winger Mahrez’s 16th league goal of the season piled the pressure on Tottenham, 24 hours before the second-placed side face Bournemouth at White Hart Lane.
No matter the outcome of that clash, Leicester will head into their remaining seven games of the season as strong favourites to become the most unlikely champions in English football history.
This time 12 months ago, Leicester were rooted at the foot of the table following a defeat to Tottenham before embarking on a run of seven wins in nine games to stay up.
A similar run this time around will deliver an astonishing first ever top-flight title to the unheralded Foxes.
For Palace, this defeat marked the latest setback in a terrible run that has left Alan Pardew’s team without a win in 13 league games and in danger of being dragged down towards the relegation zone.
Selhurst Park has proved a testing environment for teams challenging for the title, with Liverpool and Manchester City both suffering damaging defeats in south London in the previous two season.
Ranieri’s side, however, have handled everything that has come their way since their challenge began to be taken seriously at the turn of the year.
A succession of single-goal victories suggest Leicester have been forced to work hard for points recently but equally underlined their impressive resilience.
And the way Leicester started against Palace suggested they are not a side gripped by nerves as they approach the final weeks of their title bid.
A powerful early run down the left hand flank from Shinji Okazaki should have led to an opening goal for the visitors, but Mahrez was unable to connect with his header in front of an open goal.
But with Leicester appearing to be sharper in every department, it was always likely to be only a matter of time before they took the lead.
Yet while Ranieri’s side looked like a team on a high, Palace looked totally bereft of confidence despite having booked their place in the FA Cup semi-finals with victory over Reading last week.
Emmanuel Adebayor toiled ineffectively up front while left back Pape Souare never got to grips with Mahrez and it was no surprise both players were replaced at half-time as Pardew attempted to freshen up his team.
By then Leicester were one up although they should have established a more commanding first half lead.
Mahrez spurned a second opportunity in the 17th minute after being sent clear on goal by the excellent Danny Drinkwater, with the winger’s effort saved by the legs of Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey.
But Mahrez made no mistake with a third opportunity to finish with a cool first time shot to give the visitors a 33rd minute lead.
The goal summed up the difference between the two sides with Drinkwater allowed to collect Scott Dann’s headed clearance and roll the ball wide to the unmarked Jamie Vardy.
The forward then picked out Mahrez with a low cross and having easily pulled away from Souare, the winger drilled the ball past Hennessey.
Okazaki had two good chances to double the lead after the restart as Pardew’s attempt to plug the gaps in his side failed to have an immediate impact.
Palace did come more into the game the longer the second half progressed as Leicester began to show signs of fatigue, but Ranieri’s side held firm.