Leicester City overturned a 1-0 Southampton lead on Saturday, defeating the Saints 2-1 at St. Mary’s. Goals from Demarai Gray and Harry Maguire cancelled a Ryan Bertrand opener, giving the Foxes two wins on the trot and their first win away from home of the campaign.
Manager Claude Puel made three changes to the side that beat Wolverhampton last week. Kelechi Iheanacho took over for the suspended Jamie Vardy, and Wes Morgan and Daniel Amartey were recalled in place of Jonny Evans and Marc Albrighton. Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks behind Amartey, Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi once again partnered with Nampalys Mendy in central midfield with Demarai Gray on the left wing and Ricardo Pereira on the right. James Maddison started once again behind lone striker Iheanacho.
The hosts started brightly, winning a corner from the opening kick-off. The ball wound up in the back of the net, albeit long after the flag went up for offside. This set the tone for the opening quarter-hour: Saints bossed possession and won three corners, but without ever looking like scoring.
Schmeichel was finally called into action just before the 20’ mark. Mario Lemina’s scuffed shot made its way through heavy traffic and was heading for the corner on the near side. The Denmark international got down well to save it and the danger was cleared. He came to the rescue yet again on 27’ to punch a teasing Nathan Redmond cross clear for Southampton’s 6th corner of the first half hour.
The game opened up a little at both ends near the close of the half. A late deflection prevented Gray from getting on the end of a low Chilwell cross and a ball over the top just eluded Iheanacho in front of the net with the Leicester left back yet again the provider. The best chance again fell to the hosts as Danny Ings was allowed to receive the ball in the area and make a quick turn, but once again Schmeichel was equal to it and the half ended 0-0.
The second half picked up where the first ended, with Ings one-on-one with the City keeper and failing to beat him. At the other, the Foxes finally got a shot on goal when Ricardo fired one straight at Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.
Any hopes that this would start a Leicester resurgence were dashed immediately as the home side took a deserved lead through Ryan Bertrand on 52’. Wilfred Ndidi won the ball in defense, but his clearance was poor and gave the ball back to Southampton. A low cross from the right evaded a half-dozen Saints but found Bertrand on the edge of the box and his first time screamer gave Schmeichel no chance.
On the run of play you’d have counted the Foxes out, but going down a goal brought an immediate response just four minutes later. Iheanacho launched a speculative cross towards Gray, who was well marked by two defenders. The clearing header was poor and the ball fell to the former Birmingham man who turned and fired a low shot past McCarthy at the near post.
Puel made the first change just after the hour mark, bringing on Marc Albrighton for Iheanacho, leaving the Foxes without a recognized striker on the pitch. The next quarter hour of so was short on chances, but the Foxes were beginning to gain the upper hand. To up the pressure, the Leicester manager sent Rachid Ghezzal on for Maddison, who had a quiet game by his standards.
You knew at some point referee Jon Moss would make a big decision, but you’re never sure he’ll make the right one. This time he got it spot-on. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg went down in the box between Ndidi and Amartey without actually touching either one of them. Moss showed no hesitation in displaying the yellow card, which was Højbjerg’s second, and the Saints were reduced to ten men for the final twelve minutes.
City upped the pressure, going close through a Chilwell solo effort and a Ghezzal chip that was nearly turned goalwards by Wesley Hoedt. Okazaki came on for Gray as Puel curiously seemed averse to trying to make the man-advantage pay. The commentators noted that the Foxes had looked better against 11 men, and they weren’t wrong.
What we lacked in attacking power, we made up for by “having Harry Maguire”. An attack down the left had bogged down so Maguire just dribbled the ball from the left wing inside and fired a low shot from well outside the box. No one in a red shirt seemed interested in dealing with it, least of all Alex McCarthy, who stood stock-still as the ball burrowed into the back of the net. That proved to be the winner as Southampton were unable to mount a meaningful attack in the final seconds.
Let me be blunt: This was a very poor football match. If not for the Huddersfield/Cardiff nil-nil draw, this would be a candidate for the last match on Match of the Day. (Note: It turns out that I got it right. First time for everything.) The Leicester attack was seldom on the same page and once again benefited from some baffling defending. A better team than Southampton would likely have taken all three points.
That’s not to say that there weren’t some positives. Harry Maguire, even without the goal, had a very “Harry Maguire” game. The entire back line, even Daniel Amartey, played reasonably well when Saints were threatening, and Kasper Schmeichel was once again absolutely brilliant in goal. Wilfred Ndidi’s confidence on the ball is growing every game, even if his distribution isn’t necessarily keeping up.
The win puts City in 7th place on the table with 6 points in the bag. Even if the performances haven’t quite matched the results, this is a terrific start to the season the team should be commended for their ability to get points when points seem unlikely. Our next match is this coming Tuesday against Fleetwood Town, followed by a home match against Liverpool in the league.