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Published: 21:17 | 14/3/16

Foxes beat Toon to move clear

Okazaki strike restores five-point gap

Leicester City restored a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium.

Following a shaky start, the Foxes settled into their task, scoring in the 25th minute through Shinji Okazaki’s overhead kick, thanks in large part to fine aerial battling from Jamie Vardy.

Marc Albrighton went close to doubling the hosts lead prior to the break with a side-footed effort from 20 yards, although relegation-threatened Newcastle performed relatively well in their first half under Rafael Benitez.

Moussa Sissoko wasted an opportunity to set up one of a selection of teammates early in the second period, before a deflected Ayoze Perez strike fizzed narrowly wide.

The Magpies pushed late on but could not grab a leveller, leaving Benitez and his new troops in 19th place, a point behind Norwich City and Sunderland.

Claudio Ranieri’s men, meanwhile, regain a five-point advantage over Tottenham Hotspur, and an astounding Premier League triumph appears more likely with every passing week.

Arsenal and Manchester City, albeit both holding a game in hand, are slipping out of touch with the highly impressive Foxes. The Gunners are 11 points behind the leaders, with City a further point adrift.

Leicester, though, had looked nervy during the early stages on Monday night, with Kasper Schmeichel hacking away a poor Wes Morgan back-pass before half-chances were granted to Perez and Jack Colback, both of whom fired wide from inside the penalty area.

Sissoko, from a deep Perez cross, also threatened for the encouraged visitors.

However, the Magpies’ failure to deal sufficiently with a Riyad Mahrez free-kick was key, as Albrighton delivered a second-phase cross back into the danger area, where the ball rebounded for Okazaki to superbly place an acrobatic effort home from eight yards.

Newcastle’s best opportunity to level before the interval arrived through a Georginio Wijnaldum pass over the top, but Sissoko and the recalled Aleksandar Mitrovic got in one another’s way.

After the visitors had survived Leicester pressure at the beginning of the second period, Sissoko was again at the heart of Newcastle’s menace, rolling a ball across the Leicester box that none of his advancing teammates could make the most of.

Following’s Perez shot that bulleted a yard wide, Siem de Jong could have ruined Leicester’s night when Mitrovic chose not to strike despite being well placed, but the substitute’s effort was blocked by Robert Huth.

The Foxes were dangerous on the break throughout the second half, and Mahrez was unable to convert a couple of opportunities to ease Leicester nerves, but the three points were secured without undue late alarm.

Leicester, apparent certainties to be relegated until a dramatic late-season recovery under Nigel Pearson a year ago, do not give the impression that they are likely to crumble under expectation as the possibility of an incredible top-flight title grows.

For Benitez, his survival task is nothing like as gargantuan as that presented to Leicester and Pearson, and his charges can take plenty of heart from their performance in the Midlands.

Much could depend, however, on next Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby clash with Sunderland at St James' Park, when the struggling North East rivals do battle over potentially a lot more than local pride.

By David Maher

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