- Vestergaard sent off after 10 minutes for foul on Vardy, but hosts hold firm and secure deserved draw
- Leicester lack sharpness in final third but point sees them move to 63 points in third, five points clear of Chelsea in fourth spot
It was never going to be 0-9 again, but Leicester City’s return to Southampton lacked neither controversy, incident and, for the hosts, redemption as their 10 men hung on for 80 supremely disciplined minutes against a side who remain on course for the Champions League.
The game was skewed by Jannik Vestergaard’s 10th minute dismissal, which in the manner of West Ham United’s Fabian Balbuena last week, followed the defender taking the ball off Jamie Vardy’s toes, before felling him with the follow through. Southampton protested long and loud and will hope that, like Balbuena’s, Vestergaard’s red card will be rescinded. On Friday night, neither referee Robert Jones, nor VAR would be swayed.
“He was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity,” sighed Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhüttl, who will appeal. “The goalkeeper would have picked it up. The decision was simply wrong, but I was delgihted with the performance. We absolutely deserved something from this fighting performance.”
Losing a man meant Southampton – who had started brightly – were forced into defending with two banks of four against visitors who were seeking to match the 11 away victories of their 2015-16 Championship season. The 10 men even had the temerity to take the lead, before Leicester hauled them back to parity.
Quietly, almost imperceptibly, Southampton’s season has been in freefall since they defeated Liverpool in the first week of January. With Danny Ings joining Oriel Romeu and Ryan Bertrand in the treatment room, they were short of personnel as well as morale. They kicked off still capable of sending themselves to the Championship tundra and, for all their doggedness against Leicester, they still can.
In contrast, Leicester are now eight points above the Europa League spot, although West Ham have a game in hand. Seeking stability to see off a late-season wobble akin to last year’s, they were unchanged for the third game in a row, despite Monday’s attritional tussle with Crystal Palace meaning they had half of Southampton’s between-games rest period.
“It feels like a missed opportunity,” admitted Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager who claimed not to see the sending off incident. “We didn’t have tempo until we equalised. There’s no excuses: the situation was perfect for us, but for all we’re disappointment, we’re in a fantastic position and everything’s in our hands.”
Kyle Walker-Peters guided the ball into goal in the first couple of minutes after latching on to a glorious Vestergaard ball. It wasn’t a goal since Walker-Peters was well offside, but for Southampton it was a statement of intent. Alas for them, it was not one they could build on.
That pass would be the high point of Vestergaard’s evening. In the 10th minute, stationed on the edge of the penalty area, he allowed a gentle Stuart Armstrong pass to roll under his boot. Inevitably, uber-predator Vardy pounced and was through on goal. Vestergaard’s recovery tackle took the ball, but the follow-through crunched the striker’s ankles. Off went Vestergaard after referee Jones’s initial decision was confirmed by VAR. Once James Maddison had curled the subsequent free-kick inches wide, Nathan Tella was sacrificed for defender Mohammed Salisu, Nathan Redmond was withdrawn into midfield and Southampton went 4-4-1.
Leicester seized the territorial initiative. Timothy Castagne and Luke Thomas stretched Southampton wide, the roving Maddison made himself the extra man, but they struggled to break through Southampton’s well-drilled, deep-lying, stakhanovite midfield, marshalled with ruthless efficiency by James Ward-Prowse.
Struggling to create chances, Rodgers shuffled his pack at half-time, withdrawing defender Wesley Fofana, who is fasting for Ramadan, in favour of Ayoze Pérez, twice a hat-trick scorer against Southampton. Still, though, Southampton and, of all things, the 10 men went upfield and scored. Armstrong hurtled down the left and drew an intemperate foul from Castagne close to the byline. Rather than toss the ball into the crowded penalty area, Ward-Prowse slyly pulled it back for Armstrong, who shot powerfully toward goal. Kelechi Iheanacho blocked with his arm and Jones’s decision was simple. Ward-Prowse smashed the penalty past Kasper Schmeichel.
Now Leicester’s task was suddenly rather less straightforward, but their new urgency soon brought reward when Maddison played a deft ball into the area which Wilfred Ndidi back-heeled into Iheanacho’s path. He crossed into the six-yard box and Jonny Evans nodded his second goal in three games past the hitherto imperious Alex McCarthy.
Leicester, though, were far from finished and they swarmed forwards en masse as Southampton clung on, those banks of four still extant, still disciplined. When Iheanacho’s late, mistimed header hit McCarthy on the shoulder and bounced wide. It was a slice of good fortune, but only the flintiest of heart could begrudge it.
At the final whistle, Elton John’s appositely titled I’m Still Standing boomed into the Hampshire night and Southampton celebrated as if they had won. In a sense, they had.
FULL TIME: Southampton 1-1 Leicester
Well played Southampton – they went a man down (unfairly) and since have defended as a unit and all stood up to the task impressively.
That task should have been tougher than Leicester made it – they weren’t sharp in attack, with the man advantage and this is two points lost in the charge for a top-four finish.
75 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester
Leicester are putting more crossing in now but they’re annoyingly, for them at least, going just too high, or too far in front of Vardy or Iheanacho. They’ve got 15 minutes to get the win most (including them, I reckon) would have assumed was there’s once Vestergaard saw red.
That red card
It’s (obviously) the main talking point on Sky and both Darren Bent and Jamie Redknapp don’t think it was a foul, let alone a red card. It was the follow through, having got the ball, that caught Vardy…
It was given for a ‘denial of a goalscoring opportunity’.
They’re now talking about whether ‘it was a clear and obvious error’ and wondering why VAR didn’t intervene…
HALF TIME : Southampton 0-0 Leicester
The back of Iheanacho’s head meets a Castagne cross. It’s on target but its more catching practice for McCarthy than an actual save.
That’s it for the first half.
I said I wouldn’t go on about the 9-0 BUT at the break when down to 10 men two years ago the hosts were 5-0 down. They’re still level at the moment and deservedly so.
The visitors have been a bit too ponderous on the ball and Southampton haven’t been troubled since Vestergaard’s sending off.
22 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester
Tielemans gets two bites of the cherry out wide after his corner is headed clear. His second cross is again headed away from danger by the hosts and, not wanting to tempt fate for Southampton, the hosts are looking solid at the back playing with a man down.
I think they were already 3 down by now in the 9-0 that I promised I wouldn’t bang on about…
13 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester
After a break so Vardy could get some treatment and the Southampton players could remonstrate with the referee, Robert Jones, Leicester have a free kick right on the edge of the area (it was an inch from being a penalty…) can they rub salt into the hosts wounds?
No, but Maddison’s attempt only just went wide as he bended it around the wall.
9 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester
RED CARD FOR VESTERGAARD
As with the 9-0 last season Southampton are down to 10 men early on.
The ball was played across to the defender, he miscontrolled it and Vardy latched on to the loose ball. Vestergaard then dived in, and took down the striker. BUT it looks like he did get the ball and it was the follow through that caught Vardy.
He and Southampton look unlucky there and VAR hasn’t come to their rescue…
2 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester
We all know that Southampton will stay up, but the thing is they’re mathematically not safe. They need another win – sooner rather than later.
The hosts see most of the early possession and WALKER-PETERS is through on goal after a long, pin-point ball from Vestergaard and he slots high into the net BUT he was offside…no need for Var there. Good start, though, by Southampton.
Brendan Rodgers speaks…
On focus for rest of the season and Champions League target…
“[Our only focus] is the game tonight. It’s important and we’re excited by it.”
On the difference between Leicester this season and last season…
“It’s development, the players have been amazing in their approach. It’s a different season, they’ve improved and collectively been very strong.”
On the great form of Kelechi Iheanacho…
“[It’s all down to] confidence, there’s always been the talent. When’s taken the opportunities all his finishes [have been] different types. He’s worked hard and he knows he needs to continue [in that vein]”
Ralph Hasenhuttl speaks…
On Southampton’s poor form…
“We must play like we did in the first half against Spurs.The guys know they have played better football and the aim is to find that more consistently. We need to do the good things for a bit longer.”
On the aim for the rest of the season…
“We need more than one good result to make this season a good one. We have six games left and have to do better [than in the past few weeks]”
Remember the last time these sides met on a Friday at St Mary’s?!
This fixture last season also took place on a Friday evening and if you’re a Southampton fan you’ll be praying that that’s where the similarities end. That’s because it was this clash that saw the visitors fire nine past their accommodating hosts.
Leicester were already 1-0 up when Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand was sent off in the 12th minutes and from there it got progressively worse for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team. It was 5-0 at the break and the second 45 was a procession for Jamie Vardy and Co. The striker got a hat trick, as did Ayoze Perez, and there were goals from Ben Chilwell, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison.
The stats were pretty spectacular as well. The visitors had 25 shots, 15 on target, they enjoyed 73 per cent possession and had 709 passes.
The chances of the same happening again? Well, on one level, such has been the bonkers, couldn’t-predict-it nature of the past 14 or so months, I wouldn’t rule it out. On another level, that’s exactly what I am doing – it won’t happen (not least because Southampton have already been beaten 9-0 this season (by Man Utd, back in February)).
So on the off chance a 9-0 is followed by a 0-0 here are the goals from that famous match in 2019…
Here’s the Leicester XI
LEICESTER CITY XI TO FACE SOUTHAMPTON:Schmeichel, Castagne, Fofana, Soyuncu, Evans, Tielemans, Ndidi, Thomas, Maddison, Iheanacho, Vardy; Subs: Ward, Albrighton, Perez, Amartey, Under, Choudhury, Pereira, Mendy, Praet.
Brendan Rodgers’ side is unchanged for the third game running – obviously going with the adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Here be Southampton
SOUTHAMPTON XI TO FACE LEICESTER CITY: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Stephens, Bednarek, Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, Redmond, Minamino, Tella, Adams, Subs: Forster, Djenepo, Salisu, Diallo, Ramsay, Walcott, N’Lundulu, Ferry, Jankewitz
Danny Ings is out with a thigh injury – and could be out for the rest of the season. Mohammed Salisu and Theo Walcott are dropped to the bench with Jack Stephens, Takumi Minamino and Nathan Redmond the trio to come in.
Targets for Leicester to move to next level
Targets for Rodgers will be easier to reach. Leicester have scouted Soumare, the France Under-21 international, and have wide knowledge of Ligue 1 after the capture of Wesley Fofana from St-Etienne last year.
Gosens, the German international who plays left-back or midfield, was a Leicester target last summer and will be on the radar again. Edouard will be available for about £20m and there remains confidence that Leicester can win the race to sign him ahead of Arsenal, AC Milan and Lyon.
Players for the future are also a priority, with Hartlepool United goalkeeper Brad Young, 18, poised to sign ahead of next season.
Leicester will also move to trim their squad, with Hamza Choudhury available for transfer and Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs out of contract. Cengiz Under, the winger signed on loan from Roma, will return to the Serie A club.
By securing a place in Europe’s elite competition, Rodgers will be able to retain the core of his squad and potentially avoid the Leicester policy of one major sale per summer.
Over the past four years they have sold N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell for a combined total of about £250m.
The next few weeks promise to be important for Rodgers in his attempt to break away from Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal. Leicester face Southampton on Friday night with a club record in their sights, as they return to St Mary’s for the first time since their 9-0 victory in October 2019.
In the 2015/16 title-winning campaign under Claudio Ranieri, Leicester racked up 11 away wins and this squad are one victory away from equalling that, with three matches on the road still to play.
That impressive record has played a huge part in Leicester’s chase for the Champions League, with Rodgers admitting the absence of supporters is proving crucial.
“There’s been no real shift from a tactical perspective: there’s that automated feeling that when you’re away from home you’ve got to be really strong, resilient and aggressive,” he said.
“You’ve also got to be clinical and I think the players have shown that in a lot of the games. Hopefully we can take the same mentality into Friday’s game. When you travel away, the home teams aren’t necessarily under pressure to attack so much because there’s no crowds.
“Until this point this season has been really good, but it’s not the time to soften up. The win puts us level with last season but our ambition is to finish as high as we can and with a trophy. That’s our focus.”
Leicester out to continue push to disrupt top six, writes John Percy
Leicester City are on course to bank a minimum £40 million from Champions League qualification, in a huge boost for Brendan Rodgers’ hopes of further disrupting the ‘Big Six’ hierarchy.
Rodgers is preparing for five crucial matches in his mission to secure a top-four finish and knows that staying the distance this time could prove a pivotal moment in Leicester’s recent history.
A place in next season’s Champions League will enhance the manager’s spending power, with targets including Lille midfielder Boubakary Soumare, Atalanta left-back Robin Gosens and Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard, while key players such as Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi and Caglar Soyuncu will be in line for updated contracts.
Leicester are seven points clear of fifth-placed West Ham United and victories in their next two matches, against Southampton and Newcastle United, will take them closer to their ultimate goal.
Rodgers’ side have been in the top four since September 2019, apart from the final match day of last season when they were beaten at home by Manchester United.
Three successive victories have dampened fears over another late wobble and Rodgers believes the evolution and mentality of his squad will prove the difference during the final weeks.
Finishing in the top four will have a massively positive impact on their short-term future. If Leicester finish outside the top two, they will go into next season’s Champions League unseeded but still stand to receive at least £40m, with the promise of further funds if they progress to the knockout stages.
Leicester will be able to remain competitive while maximising their revenues and investing in talent, also boosting sustainability at a time when King Power, the club’s owners, have been hit financially by Covid-19.