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March 19, 2016

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Leicester City did what they needed to do to maintain their lead atop the English Premier League, defeating Crystal Palace away from home to put pressure on Tottenham to get a positive result on Sunday. Fellow title challengers Arsenal also cruised past Everton, while Chelsea needed a late penalty to earn a draw against West Ham United. 

Track Leicester's run to the EPL title here, and read recaps of all the day's games below. 

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LONDON (AP) — More than 15 minutes after the final whistle, Leicester fans were still singing, finally ready to believe their team will become the unlikeliest of champions.

"We're going to win the league," they chanted continuously in unison after Leicester grabbed a third successive 1-0 victory on Saturday at Crystal Palace. "And now you're going to believe us."

That includes even those skeptical pundits who predicted a Leicester collapse which has yet to happen.

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The Selhurst Park announcer eventually tried to urge the visiting supporters to leave the south London stadium, but they responded in an instant: "We shall not be moved."

Just like their team will surely not be shifted from the Premier League summit. Not when it is provisionally eight points clear with seven matches to go.

The lethal double act of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy combined again to see off Palace, clinching a slender win emblematic of this astonishing pursuit of the trophy. Mahrez arrived unmarked in the penalty area to meet Vardy's low cross across the face of goal in the 34th minute before sweeping in his 16th goal of the campaign.

"The game was very difficult, it was a very good win," Mahrez said. "We have to keep going like this. It's getting close."

Exactly a year ago, Leicester sat bottom of the league before winning a late battle against relegation. Now the central England team, which is owned by a Thai retail tycoon, is poised to win the world's richest league for the first time.

"Our fans are singing — that is fantastic, but we have to stay calm and concentrated," Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri said. "I remember at the start of the season, I haven't forgotten: The goal was to save the team.

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"Now everybody is speaking about us. Not only in England but around the world."

It will be an even better weekend for Leicester if Tottenham fails to close the eight-point gap when it hosts Bournemouth on Sunday.

At the very least, what seems certain for Leicester is a place in the lucrative Champions League for the first time next season.

"There's seven matches to go until the end — it's not easy for us," Ranieri said. "We are Leicester. We aren't a team like (Manchester) United, (Manchester) City, Chelsea ... we have to fight every match."

The scale of Leicester's achievement has been magnified by the struggles experienced by United, City and Chelsea.

Only City is in the top four, 15 points behind Leicester, while Chelsea is a mammoth 25 points behind in 10th place as it meekly surrenders the title to its former manager, Ranieri.

Thirteen of Leicester's 31 league games have now been secured by one-goal margins. And like so often during this improbable bid for a first-ever league title, Leicester's opponent enjoyed most of the possession in London but the visitors clung on for the victory.

"I think they showed in the first half why they are top of the league," Palace manager Alan Pardew said. "We couldn't really make any impact on them. They are very strong, disciplined-wise in terms of their defensive duties. It's very hard to get through them.

"We couldn't really create anything and they deserved the lead at halftime."

Shinji Okazaki came close to extending Leicester's advantage immediately after the break, striking over and heading wide. But Leicester's defensive doggedness throughout the second half was the hallmark of champions.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel preserved the lead by punching Bakary Sako's shot over and the crossbar saved Leicester in the stoppage time following Damien Delaney's volley.

For Palace, it marked the continuation of a miserable run since December when the club was sixth as it celebrated receiving investment from American sports tycoons David Blitzer and Josh Harris, who co-own the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL's New Jersey Devils.

In three months, Palace has gone from being nine points behind Leicester to 33 after winning only once in 17 games and going close to the relegation zone.

"It was always going to be a difficult task today," Pardew said as the delirious Leicester fans inside his stadium were still celebrating being another step closer to the title.

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Arsenal responded to its elimination from two cup competitions by beating Everton 2-0 in the Premier League through first-half goals by Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi on Saturday to keep alive its fading title challenge.

It was a comfortable victory for Arsenal at the end of a week when its chances of winning silverware this season virtually disappeared after losses to Watford and Barcelona in the FA Cup and Champions League, respectively.

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Everton produced another head-scratching display at Goodison Park, with Welbeck running through unchecked to score in the seventh minute and Iwobi marking his first league start with his first league goal in the 42nd.

Arsenal moved eight points behind first-place Leicester, which visits Crystal Palace later Saturday, but still needs the leaders and second-place Tottenham to collapse in the final eight games to stand a chance of winning a first league title since 2004.

The result came as no surprise, given Everton's seven home defeats in the league already this season and a dismal record of only one win in its previous 17 meetings with Arsenal. And so assured was Arsenal's performance that manager Arsene Wenger must wonder how his team had conspired to win only one of its last eight games in a familiar early-spring implosion at a crunch time of the season.

Arsenal looked dangerous every time it got in behind Everton's midfield, which happened regularly in the first half. Welbeck had already hit the post — via a ricochet from an Everton clearance — when he ran onto Sanchez's throughball, rounded goalkeeper Joel Robles and slotted into an empty net

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Iwobi wasted a gilt-edged chance by shooting straight at Robles and Sanchez had a strong penalty appeal turned down before Arsenal made it 2-0 by exposing Everton's creaking defense.

Hector Bellerin lofted a long ball over the top, which Iwobi raced onto and composed himself before sliding a shot through the legs of Robles. The nephew of Nigeria great Jay-Jay Okocha, Iwobi is currently preferred to Theo Walcott on the right wing and was impressive again with his pace and trickery.

Everton didn't even make Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina work hard for his clean sheet in the second half, its only chance coming when Phil Jagielka headed over from a corner. There was ironic applause from home fans when striker Romelu Lukaku, who had no service all day, sent a weak header at Ospina in the last minutes.

Languishing in mid-table in the league, Everton's season rests on the FA Cup after reaching the semifinals last weekend. For Arsenal, the Premier League is still an unlikely prospect.

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LONDON (AP) — With its season all but over, Chelsea took some pleasure in stopping London rival West Ham from moving into the top four of the English Premier League in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

West Ham is fifth, one point behind Manchester City.

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Knocked out of the FA Cup and the Champions League in the last week, Chelsea got its goals from Cesc Fabregas, including an 89th-minute penalty after Ruben Loftus-Cheek was judged to have been tripped by Michail Antonio. Replays suggested minimal contact at most and outside the area.

Andy Carroll made it 2-1 in the 61st, scoring one minute after coming off the bench, after Fabregas' brilliant free kick canceled out Manuel Lanzini's superb opener in the first half.

On the bright side of a dismal season, midtable Chelsea's unbeaten league run was extended to 14 games — 13 of those under interim boss Guus Hiddink — as the defending champion licks its wounds after the FA Cup defeat at Everton and Champions League round-of-16 exit against Paris Saint-Germain.

Suspended Chelsea striker Diego Costa was replaced by Loic Remy, who made his first start since September.

The Hammers are bidding to play Europe's elite at the Olympic Stadium next season and made a fine start against Chelsea, pressing their derby rivals into a mistake which led to the opening goal.

Gary Cahill was caught in no-man's land when Diafra Sakho headed the ball on, John Obi Mikel slid in on Dimitri Payet but danger still lurked. The ball broke for Lanzini, who picked his spot.

Willian went close with a free kick before Chelsea equalized just before the interval when Fabregas curled in from 25 yards after Winston Reid fouled Oscar.

Chelsea was caught as it pressed forward for a winner. Carroll made a run behind Branislav Ivanovic and stayed onside as Cahill and fit-again John Terry appealed. Payet found him, and Carroll's left-footed shot did the rest. He thought it was his second winner over Chelsea this season after his header at Upton Park in October.

But Chelsea continued to threaten and got the disputed penalty to grab a point right at the end.

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SWANSEA, Wales (AP) — Federico Fernandez eased Swansea's Premier League relegation fears by scoring his first goal for the club to seal a 1-0 victory over bottom-place Aston Villa on Saturday.

Fernandez had not scored in 57 appearances since signing from Napoli in August 2014 but he chose the perfect moment to open his account.

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Villa might have lost a man when Aly Cissokho was warned by the referee rather than receiving a second yellow card for bringing down Modou Barrow in the 53rd minute.

Villa was immediately punished anyway when goalkeeper Brad Guzan failed to collect Gylfi Sigurdsson's free kick and the ball rolled into an empty net off Fernandez's right shoulder.

Villa appears doomed after winning only three games all season. Swansea has an 11-point buffer above the drop zone.

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WATFORD, England (AP) — Stoke moved within a point of Manchester United in sixth place in the English Premier League after accounting for Watford 2-1 on Saturday.

Watford played like a shadow of the side which beat Arsenal to reach the FA Cup semifinals last weekend.

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Jonathan Walters, recalled as a starter, took advantage of a Watford error to convert Phil Bardsley's cross at the far post in the first half. Bardsley set up Marko Arnautovic moments later but the goal was disallowed for a slim offside.

Soon after the interval, Stoke was 2-0 up pouncing on another error. Norwich goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes scuffed his free kick straight to Walters, who volleyed to Joselu to put away.

Watford finally replied when substitute Ikechi Anya crossed for Troy Deeney to head in. But they couldn't add an equalizer.

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WEST BROMWICH, England (AP) — Norwich rose out of the English Premier League relegation zone and ended an 11-game winless in beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0 on Saturday.

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Norwich could yet be overtaken by Sunderland, which plays Newcastle on Sunday, but the Canaries were also celebrating their first away clean sheet of the season.

Robbie Brady's second-half winner in a goalmouth scramble was the high point of a dull match.

West Brom failed to test Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy, and couldn't prevent an end to its unbeaten run of eight home games since December.

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