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Leicester’s charge thwarted by Gardner in thriller

Leicester City suffered a setback in their romantic Premier League title push on Tuesday when a stunning second-half free kick from West Brom’s Craig Gardner stopped their charge towards another critical victory with a 2-2 draw.

A fortuitous deflected shot from Danny Drinkwater and a brilliantly-executed first goal of the season for Andy King on the stroke of halftime seemed to have put the Foxes in control after an early setback.

Salomon Rondon had become the first opposition player to score a league goal at the King Power Stadium in 2016 after just 11 minutes and, even when under huge pressure after halftime, Albion again proved party poopers when Gardner’s 25-metre free kick left Kasper Schmeichel rooted to the spot.

Leicester could rue efforts from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki that struck the woodwork and Leonardo Ulloa almost equalised in the final second but the draw, which still leaves Leicester three points clear, gives Tottenham Hotspur the chance to overhaul them at the top on Wednesday.

Aston Villa took another step towards their almost inevitable relegation when they were beaten 3-1 by Everton at Villa Park where the home fans walked out in protest long before the end.

Thousands left even before a scheduled protest in the 74th minute – chosen to mark Villa’s foundation in 1874 – and they missed their team’s only goal scored by Rudy Gestede five minutes later.

By then the match was long over as a contest, leaving Villa well adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table.

Everton took the lead in the fifth minute when Ramiro Funes Mori headed in a Kevin Mirallas corner. Aaron Lennon made it 2-0 after 30 minutes following a sweeping Everton move before Romelu Lukaku bundled home the third after an hour.

Earlier Chelsea scored the fastest goal in the Premier League this season when Brazilian Kenedy netted after 39 seconds in their 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Chelsea took the lead before some fans had even taken their seats when Kenedy drove a low left-shot shot into the far corner of John Ruddy’s net from just outside the area after jinking past two defenders having been fed by the marauding Eden Hazard.

Diego Costa made it 2-0 to the visitors on the stroke of halftime when he clipped the ball over Ruddy from close range after being found inside the box by Bertrand Traore, although the Spain striker appeared offside when he received the pass.

Elswhere, Fabio Borini scored a crucial stoppage-time equaliser to ensure Sunderland earned a draw which pulled them out of the Premier League relegation zone.

The Italian’s strike from the tightest of angles sent the Stadium of Light into raptures after Sunderland old boy Connor Wickham had threatened to consign his former side to another potentially calamitous defeat with a second-half double.

Sunderland went ahead with a fortunate Dame N’Doye strike which looped off Scott Dann’s boot in the 36th minute before the predatory Wickham took over after the break, striking twice in the space of six minutes.

The double from the man who left Sunderland for Crystal Palace in the close-season looked to have ensured the London club’s first win in 11 outings before Borini struck in the first minute of injury time to earn the point which lifts the Black Cats into 17th place.

Bournemouth beat south coast rivals Southampton 2-0 in an uninspiring match at Dean Court with the victory keeping the home side eight points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.

Bournemouth took the lead when centre-back Steve Cook reacted superbly to meet a loose ball in the penalty area and scissor-kick the ball home after half-an-hour.

The home side doubled their lead after 79 minutes when Matt Ritchie’s free-kick wide on the right got a touch from Benik Afobe who flicked his header into the roof of the net.

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