For so long Leicester looked set to be glorious gatecrashers again. In this match, as in the season, they played their way into a wonderful position, tantalisingly close to a qualification for the Champions League that would have ridiculed the presumed order of things in English football. But they could not hold on. They must settle for an agonising, laudable fifth-place finish.
They led 1-0 and 2-1 here, each time thanks to penalties by Jamie Vardy. But Spurs, whose first goal may have been Harry Kane’s last for the club, struck back. To add to Leicester’s pain, the equalizer was helped into his own goal by Kasper Schmeichel. The visitors then threw on a high-end substitute, Gareth Bale, who struck twice on the counter as Leicester chased victory in vain. Tottenham’s fourth in their 4-2 victory at Leicester which means Spurs finish seventh.
Parading the FA Cup around the stadium after full time served as a timely reminder that this has still been an admirable season by Brendan Rodgers’ team, who finished with the second highest top-flight points tally in the club’s history. But it was so nearly much better.
The temptation for Leicester would have been to tear into a goal hunt from the start. But Rodgers had preached patience and his team showed their maturity by taking a measured approach. That was especially wise given that Spurs started as if determined to play the spoilsports. The 8,000 home fans booed as the visitors threatened in the opening minutes.
Soon the home players bared their teeth. Their breakthrough came from a beautiful pass by a teenage academy graduate to a club icon. Nineteen-year-old left-back Luke Thomas curled the ball from deep around Davinson Sánchez and into the path of Vardy, who raced into the box and sidestepped Toby Alderweireld, who caught the striker with his trailing leg.
Referee Anthony Taylor signalled for play to continue but was then advised to review the incident on the pitchside monitor. His verdict inspired raucous cheers from the crowd. Vardy kept his cool to steer the penalty to Hugo Lloris’s left as the keeper dived the other way.
At that point the scorelines at Anfield and Villa Park meant that Leicester were in third place. But there was still plenty of scope for more twists. Less than five minutes later Leicester suffered a blow when Wesley Fofana had to depart with an injury, obliging Rodgers to devise another work-around in a season in which Leicester have sustained regular casualties. Wilfried Ndidi dropped back into defence while Nampalys Mendy was introduced to midfield.
At first Leicester took that complication in their stride, none more elegantly than Youri Tielemans, who, in the 36th minute, chested the ball down while rolling past Alli. The Belgian then prodded it to Marc Albrighton, who unloaded a rasping shot from 25 yards that Lloris did well to hold.
But one minute later Tottenham started to test home nerves. Son beat the offside trap to collect a cute pass by Alli and would have left Kane with a tap-in if not for a last gasp intervention by Soyuncu. Leicester’s relief was only fleeting. In the 41st minute a corner by Son found its way to Doherty at the far side of the area. After the Irishman’s shot rebounded off Ndidi into air, Son sidefooted it back into the danger zone. Thomas’s attempted clearance turned an ideal assist for Kane, who swept a volley into the net from nine yards.
At half-time news that Villa were riling Chelsea must have boosted Leicester more than any energy drink. They emerged for the second period with renewed conviction. But the penalty that enabled them to take the lead was questionable. The referee pointed to the spot when Vardy fell following a tangle with Sánchez as the pair ran to reach a smart pass by Maddison.
There was a strong suspicion that Vardy had locked arms with Sánchez rather than vice-versa, but a VAR review did not produce enough evidence to overturn the referee’s on-field decision. There was nothing ambiguous about Vardy’s finish as he rammed the penalty into the net.
Leicester did not try merely to protect their advantage. Kelechi Iheanacho forced a save from Lloris after wriggling his way into the area. But Tottenham were not going to make this easy for the hosts. Ryan Mason threw on Bale and Lucas Moura. Son tried to give the Welshman a chance to make his mark almost immediately, but Soyuncu hared back to clear. One minute later Soyuncu foiled Son again, this time heading a freekick away from under his own bar.
The ensuing corner triggered a painful mishap for Leicester, particularly Schmeichel, who, under pressure from Sánchez, misjudged his attempt to punch Son’s in-swinging delivery clear, leaving the ball to graze his arm on the way into the net.
It got worse for Leicester. As they chased the winning goal that would have secured Champions League qualification, Spurs hit them on the break. Son backheeled the ball to Kane, who was forced wide as he tried to go around Schmechel but laid the ball back to Bale to fire into the net from 16 yards. Bale smiled and cupped his ears as the home crowd groaned. Then he scored again, prodding in the rebound from close range after hitting the post.