By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - Jose Mourinho's future at Chelsea was pushed further under the spotlight on Saturday when the manager, absent through a stadium ban, may have watched in solitary misery as the champions lost yet again at Stoke City.
On a day when Jamie Vardy kept his amazing scoring exploits going for Leicester City to help Claudio Ranieri's side join Manchester City and Arsenal on 25 points at the top of the Premier League, the latest crisis for Mourinho still eclipsed all else.
The Portuguese had said his one-match suspension might force him to watch the match on a street corner on his iPad but, if media reports that he saw it at a nearby hotel are to be believed, Marko Arnautovic's 53rd-minute volley in Stoke's 1-0 home win will have made for wretched viewing.
It meant Mourinho was left surveying the wreckage of his worst-ever season in management, an unprecedented seventh league defeat in 12 matches being sealed by Arnautovic's acrobatic close-range effort.
Mourinho, who received the FA ban for making abusive comments to referee Jon Moss during last month's defeat at West Ham United, will have gone through agonies after Pedro hit the post with a curling shot as Chelsea piled on late pressure.
The defeat dropped Chelsea to fifth from bottom, astonishingly hovering three points above the relegation zone and placing further question marks over the manager's future at the club he led to championship glory just six months ago.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who was back at his former club Stoke on Saturday, said Mourinho remained the "right man" for Chelsea.
"We are behind the manager, you can see that from our performances," said Begovic.
"His spirit and his presence is always there. We wanted to get a result for him."
Leicester became unlikely bedfellows with giants Manchester City and Arsenal at the top as Vardy hammered home a 65th-minute penalty to score for the ninth consecutive league match and secure a 2-1 victory over Watford.
Ranieri's Leicester are third on goal difference behind City and Arsenal who both play on Sunday.
VAN NISTELROOY RECORD
Vardy needs to find the target in his next game at Newcastle United to equal the record of Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy who netted in 10 successive matches in 2003.
Riyad Mahrez, the usual Leicester penalty taker, handed the ball over when Vardy was brought down by keeper Heurelho Gomes and the home crowd bayed for the striker to be given the chance.
"Of course Jamie wanted to score, that's normal," Ranieri said. "Van Nistelrooy was a fantastic striker and, like him, Jamie has everything to achieve at the highest level."
The Italian manager's surprise packages, who spent last season struggling for survival, had gone ahead when midfielder N'Golo Kante was amazed to see his weak 52nd-minute effort roll under accident-prone Gomes' hands.
Troy Deeney's 75th-minute penalty for Watford proved in vain.
Manchester United kept up the pressure on the pacesetters when a terrific goal from youngster Jesse Lingard helped them to a 2-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion, putting the Old Trafford club within a point of the leaders.
Juan Mata sealed the deal with a stoppage-time penalty after Gareth McAuley was sent off for hauling down Anthony Martial.
West Ham United missed the chance to close on the leaders after Romelu Lukaku scored against the Hammers at Upton Park to earn Everton a 1-1 draw after on-loan Argentine Manuel Lanzini had put the home side ahead.
Lukaku has now netted in all seven games he has played against the London outfit.
Sunderland's struggles at the foot of the table continued as Southampton earned a deserved 1-0 triumph at the Stadium of Light, Dusan Tadic hammering home a 69th-minute penalty.
Newcastle earned an important and highly improbable 1-0 victory at Bournemouth, scoring completely against the run of play thanks to a 27th-minute Ayoze Perez goal.
Norwich City pulled clear of the danger zone with a 70th-minute Jonny Howson header clinching a 1-0 win at home to Swansea City.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)