Claudio Ranieri admits it was important for Leicester City to get to the top of the Premier League ahead of a difficult run of games in February.
Danny Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy and substitute Leonardo Ulloa scored as Leicester moved three points clear at the summit with a vital victory, with their next three league games being against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal.
“It was very important to be top of the league at the end of January because now February is a month that is very, very tough. Liverpool, Arsenal, City – it is unbelievable. But we are ready to fight,” said Ranieri.
“Now the players will have three days off, to clear the minds. And when they come back we restart to work hard because the league for us is very exciting.
“You know how much I love the clean sheet but it was also very important to score the three goals because Stoke City is a very good team – solid, strong and taller than us. The first half was very difficult but fortunately we find the goals.
“We made a fantastic performance and I am very pleased with my players.”
Vardy had gone six games without a goal before Saturday but has been typically industrious, buzzing around opposition defenders and not allowing them time on the ball, despite his fitness being tempered earlier this month by a minor groin operation.
It was the same against Stoke and if the 29-year-old’s confidence had been affected by his recent lack of goals, he showed no signs of it as he calmly rounded goalkeeper Jack Butland, after latching on to Drinkwater’s pass, before rolling the ball into the net from a tight angle.
It was Vardy’s 16th goal of a prolific season, but his first since December 14. However, it was never an issue for Ranieri.
“It was not a problem,” said the Italian.
“Jamie I tell every day it is not important, although I know goals for the strikers is important and maybe now he has more confidence, and when I speak with him I say it is important you continue to work hard because you are the main man and if you start to press then everyone follows.
“Then sooner or later you score a goal, I tell him this. You have to work and make it happen and then the goal will arrive.”