League leaders Leicester and defending champions Chelsea needed winning goals in the 89th minute on Saturday to keep their respective campaigns for the Premier League title and European football next season, on track.
Leonardo Ulloa came off the bench in the 78th minute to score the only goal of Leicester’s home game against a Norwich side that looked to have earned a vital point in its battle against relegation.
Branislav Ivanovic headed Chelsea’s winner in a 2-1 comeback victory at Southampton, which had previously kept six consecutive clean sheets in the league.
Elsewhere, West Ham moved up to provisional fifth place after a 1-0 win over Sunderland in the early kickoff, while Watford was held to 0-0 at home by Bournemouth, and Stoke beat bottom club Aston Villa 2-1. West Bromwich Albion edged Crystal Palace 3-2 in the late game.
Skeptics have been waiting since late last year for the bubble to burst in Leicester’s sensational season. Bottom of the standings at Christmas in 2014 and top of them at Christmas in 2015, the Midlands club was widely expected to drop points as the season wore on.
Two weeks after a 2-1 loss to Arsenal that ended a run of three consecutive wins, Leicester’s title hopes looked set to take another knock at King Power Stadium.
Leicester forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have scored more league goals than the entire Norwich team put together, with 33 to 30. But they were kept in check as Norwich played Leicester at its own game, sitting deep, and then looking to hit the opposition on the break.
The tactic worked, at least until Ulloa’s close-range strike put Claudio Ranieri’s side firmly back in the Premier League driving seat.
“You cannot always play well, it’s not important to play well or not, it’s important to take points,” Ranieri said.
“We wanted to restart. We believe in ourselves, we believe until the end that it’s important to fight. We lost a match in the last second against Arsenal, and today we won in the last minute. That’s football.”
His team has five more points than its nearest rivals - Arsenal and Tottenham, who play on Sunday. Arsenal is away to Manchester United, while Spurs are at home to Swansea.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s revival under interim manager Guus Hiddink grows more impressive by the week.
Chelsea trailed to a goal by Shane Long at Southampton just before half-time, but Cesc Fabregas drew the champions level in the 75th and Ivanovic headed the late winner.
Along with the points, Chelsea also extended its unbeaten league run since Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho in December to 11 games.
“The Chelsea we want to see is one which reacts to setbacks,” Hiddink said.
“We like to be proactive also, and this is what the team did, regaining possession as soon as possible and showing a huge desire to turn a negative result into a positive one. We emphasised that and the players responded.”
A single goal was enough for West Ham in the early game against relegation-threatened Sunderland. Winger Michail Antonio scored it by cutting in from the right touchline and muscling past three Sunderland defenders to curl the ball past keeper Vito Mannone.
The performance lacked the home side’s recent sparkle, but was enough to win a scrappy game.
“We were not flat, but we were not in the red zone,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said.
“That makes this win even bigger for us. I will never be objective, as I am West Ham manager. But realistically we deserved three points today.”