Jonny Evans made sure Leicester avoided disaster, but Brendan Rodgers’ team missed a golden opportunity to establish significant breathing space between them and fifth place after stumbling on a point against 10-man Southampton. Southampton, who had Jannik Vestergaard sent off early on, took the lead from the penalty spot through James Ward-Prowse after Kelechi Iheanacho was penalized for handball, but Leicester responded when Evans looked into a cross from Iheanacho.
The game came to a chaotic conclusion as Leicester huffed and puffed for a winner, but they couldn’t bring down the house. With four games to play, they have an eight-point lead over West Ham, one of many teams chasing the Champions League spots.
Ralph Hasenhüttl must have felt déja vu when, after 10 minutes, Vestergaard received a direct red card. It was this game from last season, also played under the lights on a Friday, that brought Leicester’s infamous 9-0 win, but that night it was Ryan Bertrand’s expulsion that proved to be the catalyst for Southampton’s capitulation.
What was distressing for Hasenhüttl was that his team should have taken an early lead, but Nathan Tella softened his lines after being chosen by the selfless Che Adams, who pressured Caglar Soyuncu into trouble. Hasenhüttl despaired when Tella’s right-footed shot crashed into the hands of Leicester captain Kasper Schmeichel. Moments earlier, Leicester winger Luke Thomas expertly intervened with Adams lurking in the area after Southampton responded.
For Southampton, it was the ultimate test of mental toughness. Hasenhüttl encouraged his players to retain possession but unsurprisingly they were on the defensive from the moment Vestergaard left Vardy wrinkled. Vestergaard took a strong touch on defense and, as the last man, was quick to prevent Vardy from pouncing on Alex McCarthy, again preferred in the Southampton goal. He won the ball, but the follow-up saw him inadvertently punch Vardy’s left ankle inside the D. VAR Jonathan Moss had poor eyesight and referee Robert Jones’ decision stood. James Maddison sent the resulting free throw off a post.
But Southampton didn’t flinch and Schmeichel was forced to save when the gorgeous Kyle Walker-Peters edged out two blue jerseys before extending the ball to Nathan Redmond. Walker-Peters hit the ball through Youri Tielemans’ legs midway, kicked inside Wilfred Ndidi and then scooped up Redmond, whose powerful shot was repelled. After half an hour, there was a short stop agreed by both teams before kick-off to allow Leicester defender Wesley Fofana, who is observing Ramadan, to break his fast.
Leicester saw a lot of the ball but struggled to penetrate Southampton despite their lead and with Rodgers recognizing the need to up the ante and ask more questions in the second half, Fofana was withdrawn at half-time and replaced by Ayoze Pérez. Southampton, without Danny Ings due to a thigh injury sustained in the loss to Tottenham, worked hard but was aggrieved by key decisions apparently going against him: Hasenhüttl’s assistant Richard Kitzbichler received a final warning after protest with the fourth official, Andre Marriner, until one went in his favor approaching the hour mark.
Stuart Armstrong shot at goal after receiving a Ward-Prowse free kick and Kelechi Iheanacho raised both arms as the ball flew towards him. Hasenhüttl roared with delight as the referee finally pointed to the penalty spot and Southampton captain Ward-Prowse sent the ensuing penalty with minimal fuss.
Southampton had an advantage to cherish, to hold on to, but it’s no wonder Leicester’s heads didn’t fall: Southampton have dropped a league-best 23 points from winning positions this season. Ndidi made her way into the area before finding Iheanacho, whose delicious cross was spearheaded by Evans. Then came Marc Albrighton in place of Thomas as Leicester searched for a winner.
Albrighton is a dependable performer and his flank deception eluded Redmond before launching a cross to the back post, where Vardy rose to connect under pressure from a defender.
“Give up nothing,” Schmeichel urged, and Leicester returned. Maddison slipped into Vardy, who twisted inside Walker-Peters before hitting a shot on goal, but McCarthy held his ground, but the suffering wasn’t over. Vardy pushed the ball into Ndidi’s path on the edge of the 18-yard box, but drilled wide. Hamza Choudhury screamed in disbelief among the substitutes and then a McCarthy nearly gave Leicester a winner with two minutes to go. But Leicester was left to regret what could have been.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism