It was a moment that called for clear thinking. As Leicester poured forward in the closing stages, desperately chasing the goal that would have lifted them a point behind Liverpool at the top of the table, control slipped away.
With the minutes ticking by, they needed calm and ruthlessness: someone to pause, take a deep breath and cut through all that demented running taking place near the Crystal Palace area.
Level through a stinging low drive from Harvey Barnes, Leicester had seven minutes to establish their title credentials. After failing to make their dominance count during a frustrating first half, they had responded after falling behind to Wilfried Zaha’s crisp opener for Palace. Roared on by their bench, they pinned Palace back, sprinted hard and hunted that one crucial opening.
Yet the cries grew more anguished as full-time approached. Thoughts drifted back to the first half and Vicente Guaita denying Leicester an early lead when he saved Kelechi Iheanacho’s tame penalty. Careless in the attacking third, Leicester ended up playing against the clock, rushing the final pass and finishing rashly, never more so than when Ayoze Pérez slashed a wonderful chance over the bar in the fourth minute of added time.
Time ran out as Pérez’s hurried effort sailed over. Not composed enough to capitalise on Liverpool’s dropped points against West Brom, Leicester ended up falling short despite rising above Everton into second place. “We’re disappointed with the result,” Brendan Rodgers said. “You’ve got to take your chances.”
The demands of the festive schedule also worked against Leicester, robbing them of a cutting edge. A situation that required Rodgers to make seven changes to the side who drew with Manchester United on Saturday felt deeply unsatisfactory, hammering home the absurdity of asking teams to play twice in the space of 48 hours.
If anyone benefited, though, perhaps it was the Palace defenders who were spared the task of keeping up with Jamie Vardy during the opening period. With Rodgers determined to keep his side fresh, Leicester rotated. Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana and James Maddison were missing, Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi stepped out of midfield and there was a lack of ruthlessness in an attack led by Iheanacho.
In normal circumstances it would have been Vardy stepping up to give Leicester a 17th-minute lead after James Tomkins’ foul on Luke Thomas, who had caught Palace napping with a surge from left-back. With Leicester’s leading scorer on the bench, however, spot-kick duties fell to a forward without a goal in the league this season.
Iheanacho stepped up, angling his run towards the ball in a way that betrayed his intentions. It was unsurprising to see him place his effort at a decent height for Guaita, who got a strong hand to the ball.
There would be more profligacy from Iheanacho when he headed over from four yards. Wastefulness was ruining Leicester’s composed approach play and when Pérez saw a deflected cross bounce off the bar, Dennis Praet fired over.
“If you’re looking at the game over 90 minutes, I have to say I am pleased with the point,” Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, said.
He had also made changes, although perhaps that owed more to Hodgson needing to shake up his team after a worrying dip. Thumped 7-0 by Liverpool in their previous home game, they were awful when they lost 3-0 to 10-man Aston Villa on Saturday.
Palace were content to sit back, although they did have a couple of openings before the interval. Andros Townsend wasted the best, steering Jeffrey Schlupp’s cutback wide, while replays showed they should have been awarded a penalty in the first half after Daniel Amartey’s handball was strangely not reviewed by VAR.
There was more intensity from Palace at the start of the second half. Zaha had struggled, giving the ball away too cheaply, but he remained the likeliest player to hurt Leicester. It was a different game once he started to find space to turn and dribble.
After 58 minutes Zaha dropped deep, turned cleverly and found Townsend on the right. Rather than stand back and admire his pass, he kept moving. Townsend whipped in a left-foot inswinger and Zaha was rewarded for gambling, ghosting to the far post unnoticed, perfectly placed to meet the cross with a fine volley.
Yet Palace, who are winless in five games, could not hold on. Leicester introduced Vardy and Barnes provided the spark, jinking to find space before drilling home from 18 yards.
Emboldened, Leicester began the hunt for a winner only for Pérez to fluff his lines. The prospect of a proper title race remains in the balance.