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Leicester made it six wins from six under boss Craig Shakespeare as seemingly doomed Sunderland marked the two-month anniversary of their last goal with another defeat.
The Foxes looked below their recent best for the first hour, but Shakespeare’s decision to bring on Marc Albrighton and Islam Slimani was the game-changing moment.
Seven minutes after coming on, Albrighton’s left-wing cross was headed home by Algeria striker Slimani.
Albrighton then ran from halfway before crossing to Jamie Vardy, who took a touch before firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner.
Sunderland – in the first game since boss David Moyes’ comments that a BBC reporter might “get a slap” were made public – are increasingly looking destined for the Championship.
Without a victory or a goal since 4 February, the Black Cats are eight points adrift of Premier League safety with only eight games left.
Their best chance came 96 seconds before Vardy’s goal when Victor Anichebe’s deflected shot hit the post, with Jermain Defoe smashing the rebound into the side of the net.
Leicester are a team reborn under Claudio Ranieri’s replacement Shakespeare, who became the first British manager to win his first four Premier League games at the weekend. He has extended that record to five.
While beating Sunderland is not as eye-catching as his opening victory over Liverpool, or the win over Sevilla in the Champions League, it took them into the top half of the table and nine points above the relegation zone.
The hosts were below par in the first half – think Ranieri’s side of earlier this season rather than the Italian’s title winners of last year. But after the break, more specifically after Shakespeare’s changes, they took control.
Albrighton, returning from an illness, had a hand in both goals – his cross setting up Slimani’s first Leicester goal of 2017.
Vardy’s goal was his fifth in five Premier League games under Shakespeare. He took 22 matches to score that many under Ranieri this campaign.
In the end it was a comfortable win for the Foxes, who could have won by more after dominating the final 30 minutes of the match.
They became only the second team in Premier League history to lose five consecutive games and then win their next five, following on from Tottenham in October-December 2004.
Shakespeare is enjoying the golden touch at Leicester, while Moyes’ team look doomed.
The latest defeat came on the back of criticism for his comments to a BBC reporter after being unhappy with her line of questioning. After the interview last month he told Vicki Sparks she “might get a slap even though you’re a woman” and told her to be “careful” next time.
He apologised and the club have stood by him. After the Foxes game he said “the matter’s finished”.
His problems at the moment are both on and off the field.
Moyes’ men were not awful in the first half, matching Leicester for the most part. But a series of weak headers and long-range shots were all they really offered, Anichebe’s second-half chance aside.
But it is a sixth game in a row without a goal, with only one point during that time.
They now need at least three wins, realistically a few more than that, from their final eight games to stay up. With five victories from their opening 30 league matches, those odds look slim.
There were positives from the game – Lee Cattermole made his first appearance since September following a hip injury. But he was shown a yellow card for a trip on Demarai Gray. Anichebe also returned from injury, with his first outing since January.
The story of their season can perhaps best be summed up by this – Anichebe remains their joint-second top scorer this season with defender Patrick van Aanholt [now at Crystal Palace] on three goals. He is 11 behind Defoe, who never really looked like scoring at Leicester despite a few half chances.
Former Republic of Ireland defender Mark Lawrenson on BBC Radio 5 live: “Sunderland are doomed, I’m afraid to say.
“It’s been a strange year for them and that’s come on the back of a few strange years.
“They have had lots of different managers and therefore lots of different backroom staff and then lots of different players. Maybe losing Sam Allardyce to the England job in the summer didn’t help – it could be a different story now if that hadn’t happened.
“But nowhere along the line has there been any clear plan.
“But sometimes it’s not the worst thing in the world to go down to the Championship. Newcastle have proved you can go down and make yourself stronger.
“They will be a big club in the Championship – it’s a dog-eat-dog league and you’ve got to have some guts to come straight back up but it’s possible.”
Former Black Cats defender Gary Bennett, now a BBC Newcastle pundit: “The fans are obviously not happy with the results, especially tonight. The supporters were excellent, as they have been all season.
“I could not hear any particular support or criticism of David Moyes tonight from the fans.”
Sunderland boss David Moyes: “I’m really disappointed we didn’t get something out of the game. We played really well for 60 minutes. If we’d been in front, nobody could have complained.
“At Everton we were 1-0 down and hit the bar – like today. Small margins are important. We just didn’t get it today. It’s desperate now.
“I felt we had to win one of these past two games. The boys have given a good go of it. We have maybe lacked a bit of quality.
“We’ll keep going again – it’s still in our hands to stay up.”
Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare: “We weren’t at our best tonight but the most important thing was the win.
“We know we can play better than that. We’re trying to put as many points on the board as we can.
“There’s been no talk of it [next week’s Champions League quarter-final first leg with Atletico Madrid]. We haven’t wanted to talk about it.
“Islam Slimani has had to be patient. Over the past few weeks he hasn’t played much. He showed what he’s capable of tonight.”
Leicester City go to Everton in the Premier League on Sunday (16:00 BST), with Sunderland hosting Manchester United earlier that day (13:30).