LONDON • Claudio Ranieri claims Leicester City's dramatic escape in their 2-2 draw against West Ham United has bolstered his players' belief that they are set to become Premier League champions.
Ranieri's side were seconds away from a damaging defeat at the King Power Stadium on Sunday after late goals from Andy Carroll and Aaron Cresswell put West Ham ahead following Leicester striker Jamie Vardy's dismissal for diving.
It was the kind of predicament that would have finished off a less-spirited team, but the Foxes refused to surrender and won a dubious penalty deep into stoppage time when referee Jonathan Moss ruled Carroll had tripped Jeffrey Schlupp.
Leonardo Ulloa stepped up to slam home the penalty to leave Leicester momentarily eight points clear of second-placed Tottenham, who faced Stoke yesterday.
Vardy will be suspended for Sunday's game against Swansea but Ranieri refused to dwell on the negatives and saluted the never-say-die spirit of his players.
"I'm so proud. I always ask our players to give their soul and heart until the end and that's what they did," he said. "When we conceded the second goal, my players still wanted to draw.
"Always I believe we could fight back. We showed this season everything is possible.
"Psychologically it's fantastic. It's more important than one point."
Moss' performance infuriated Leicester's fans, who booed him off even after his generous late penalty decision saved their team, but Ranieri refused to join the chorus of disapproval.
The Leicester boss insisted criticising officials was pointless, although he might also have realised his defenders had got away with several blocks and tugs in the penalty area before Moss decided captain Wes Morgan's shove on Winston Reid was worthy of the penalty converted by Carroll.
"Never in my life have I spoken about referees," the Italian said. "If I say something what changes? It is 2-2. Nothing changes. That is my philosophy."
Carroll took a harsher view of Moss after the referee's last-gasp penalty decision put a major dent in the visitors' hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
"I think he's trying to even it up," said the striker. "We could be third and flying. Now we're still fighting for fourth, fifth spot and we're slipping down by losing these points. It is just disappointing and there's nothing we can do about it."
The draw left sixth-placed West Ham seven points behind Arsenal, who are fourth and hold the final Champions League qualifying spot, with five games left.
Slaven Bilic's men host 12th-placed Watford at Upton Park tomorrow.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS