Is it on?
On Sunday afternoon, against West Ham United, Leicester City dropped points for the first time since the beginning of March. As befits this silly season they did so in markedly silly fashion: first taking the lead, then having a man sent off, then collapsing back to a 2-1 deficit, then converting a late, late penalty to rescue a point.
Everybody was very excited, everybody was very angry, and it’s hard not to think that if only they’d known beforehand, they could have shaken hands on a nil-nil and watched the Old Firm. Probably illegal, that, but still. It’s just a shame to see energy wasted.
But is it on?
With Arsenal ruling themselves out of the title race for the eleventh week in a row, all eyes switched to Monday evening, when Tottenham Hotspur went to Stoke. The concept of “going to Stoke” still carries with it a latent air of menace, evoking an atmosphere of roiling hate and a game filled with studs and blood and misery, but Tony Pulis has moved on, and Mark Hughes’ team is comfortably mid-table.
As for the game itself, Tottenham’s ankles were almost as untroubled as their defense, and its attack was effervescent. Spurs scored four, they could have had twice that, and the gap at the top is down to five points.
Right, but is it on?
The question of “on-ness” is a tricky one. Making up five points over four games is obviously very difficult when both teams involved are playing well. Leicester still has to go to Manchester United, and both still have to go to Chelsea. But it’s worth noting that Manchester United and Chelsea are poor football teams having poor seasons. Tottenham looks to be playing the better football at the moment, but have to be perfect, whereas Leicester can settle for decent. And it’s much, much easier to be decent than perfect.
You’re stalling. Is it on?
The other problem with this period of the season is that so many games take place against teams that have nothing left to play for. Spurs have to entertain both West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, who ordinarily might be quite awkward but by now are safely ensconced in mid-table, with their thoughts inevitably drifting to the beach, or to France, or to a beach in France. Leicester plays Swansea, who has completed its work for the season, and Everton, who will either have nothing to play for or an FA Cup final to concentrate on. Maybe this will manifest as a one-sided walkover for the team with a job to do, but we’ve seen before that a tense opponent with something to play for can be frustrated by relaxed-yet-competent opposition.
Then of course there’s the Vardy question. England’s angriest striker—England’s angriest man?—will definitely miss one match for flinging himself on the floor like it was a [joke redacted], and may miss another for calling referee Jon Moss a [redacted], a [redacted], and a [redacting redacting redacted]. His possible replacements all seem like reasonably pleasant people, so presumably they can barely play football and won’t be calling anybody a [redacted]. This might be a problem.
Look. Answer the question.
Fine. Fine. We’ve absolutely no idea. Are you happy now?
Down at the bottom of the table, Aston Villa has been relegated, in a technical sense. In a general sense, the club has been relegated for almost the entire season, and in an even more general sense the Villains have been marching steadily towards the Championship for the better part of the last decade. The debate over whether Leicester’s title charge constitutes a Disney-style fairytale—and whether that’s important—has been ongoing all season, but if it does, then Aston Villa’s departure is one of those older, darker tales, where everything goes wrong and it stands not as entertainment but as a terrible warning. In the distant future, little football club owners will tremble in their beds as their parents tell them a story …
Once upon a time, there was a football club. It was quite a good football club, too; it had a history and a lot of fans and a fair bit of money. It competed for trophies and it did okay. And then it was bought by a silly man who didn’t know what he was doing. He appointed the wrong managers. The wrong managers signed the wrong players. The wrong players made the fans miserable. Alex McLeish span gold into straw. Marc Albrighton was exiled from the kingdom. Joleon Lescott fell asleep for a thousand years. This continued until they became so bad that they were eaten by a large wolf called The Championship, and nobody lived happily ever after. Except Gabby Agbonlahor, because he was high as hell.