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March 19, 2016

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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