Leicester miss opportunity to exploit early red card against resolute Southampton

Jan Vestergaard sees red after bringing down Jamie Vardy
Jan Vestergaard sees red after bringing down Jamie Vardy Credit: IAN WALTON

  • 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 Southampton protested long and loud and will hope that, like Balbuena’s, Vestergaard’s red card will be rescinded.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.

James Ward-Prowse celebrates his unlikely opener for the 10-man hosts Credit: AFP

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.

Jonny Evans heads home Leicester’s equaliser Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

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.

Well played Southampton

They were dealt a bad hand with the sending off and showed the character of a side that not only will stay up but, with 11 on the pitch, could yet climb to mid-table respectability.

I’ll put the match report above in the next few minutes.

Take the positive out of the negative

Leicester are on 63 points now in third place – five more than fourth-placed Chelsea and eight more than West Ham in fifth. Brendan Rodgers’ side are still on control of their own destiny.

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.

91 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Maddison lumps the ball into the box for Vardy but Walker-Peters again puts the striker off and McCarthy collects.

The Southampton full back has been brilliant and just been named man of the match.

89 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Castagne gets on the end of a Tielemans cross but his volley goes wide.

It’s been a good defensive display from Southampton but Leicester have had enough half chances to put McCarthy under more pressure than they have.

Three minutes of added time to come.

88 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Leicester have a throw in the final third. It’s taken quickly and the ball crossed in for Iheanacho. McCarthy comes for it and nearly heads it into his own net.

86 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Vardy again cuts inside onto his right and tees up Ndidi who has a clear sight of goal but pulls his shot wide. Should have at least asked a question of McCarthy.

85 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

A bit last few minutes for Leicester now – another cliche coming your way BUT they’ll view this as two points dropped if it stays as it is.

83 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Great save from McCarthy – Vardy gets the ball on the left-hand side of the box, cuts inside onto his right and smashes it from close range. But the Southampton keeper spreads himself and saves with his feet.

81 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

It’s Perez’s turn to cross the ball in – Vardy is again at the back post but again it doesn’t reach him. It’s not been a siege so far but there might be one for the final 10 minutes.

78 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

The visitors still seeing most of the ball – a fine ball is played to the back post for Vardy and Walker-Peters does brilliantly to head away for a corner…although it’s given as a goal kick…still, great defending…

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.

72 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Southampton are in the final third and Stephens gets in a cross which Leicester do well to scramble away.

70 mins: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Maddison is, I think, engaged in his very own world record attempt for number of shots from distance – he has two in a matter of seconds and they are both blocked.

GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL!!!: Southampton 1-1 Leicester

Evansheads home!

From the corner Leicester go short again. They are patient and pass it about before Iheanacho crosses and Evans, still up from the set piece, gets in front of his man and heads into the back of the net.

67 mins: Southampton 1-0 Leicester

This corner goes short and ultimately ends at the feet of Perez who curls a shot into the top corner, or at least that’s where it would have ended up without another save from McCarthy. It’s another corner.

66 mins: Southampton 1-0 Leicester

Maddison keeps on trying to shoot from distance – this time his effort is deflected for a corner.

From the resulting set piece Evans nearly gets on the end of it at the back post. The ball comes to Maddison and another long-range shot is tipped over.

64 mins: Southampton 1-0 Leicester

Maddison cannot control a long ball and is offside – is the pressure telling?

63 mins: Southampton 1-0 Leicester

Redmond gets in the box for the hosts and they’re looking lively and confident now they’re ahead.

Now Leicester need to get on the front foot and inject pace and precision into their game – both lacking so far.

GOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!! Southampton 1-0 Leicester

He’s great from free-kicks and useful at penalties too – Ward-Prowse slots home low to the left.

Who saw this coming?!

59 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Free kick for Southampton on the left-hand byline.

Ward-Prowse plays it short to Armstrong whose fierce shot is blocked by Iheanacho AND Robert Jones points to the spot for handball!

VAR doesn’t overturn it and it’s a penalty to Southampton.

57 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Tielemans plays in Castagne on the right and his low ball is well intercepted by McCarthy.

Leicester are asking more questions this half but without creating clearcut chances.

54 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

It’s sometimes said (a footballing cliche) that it’s sometimes harder to play against 10 men than 11…Leicester are giving credence to that well-worn phrase.

52 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Maddison gets in the box and tries to play in Castagne but he is harried off the ball. Leicester are trying to put more bodies forward but so far to no avail.

50 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Minamino gets a yellow card and concedes a free kick and once again Leicester cannot put the hosts under pressure form a set piece. There’s still plenty of time left but you’d think they’ve have created more by now.

48 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

A quiet opening from Rodgers men – continuing the theme from the first half.

They are seeing, as you’d expect, a lot more of the ball but struggling to create clearcut chances.

46 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

If there’s one thing obvious from the first 45 it’s that Leicester need to inject a bit more pace and impetus into their attack.

45 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

One change for Leicester – Perez is on for Fofana.

Perez scored three in that 9-0…

A bit of hope for Southampton

Or a good omen (if you can have one when down to 10 men)…

The last time Southampton won with 10 men was against Leicester in January 2019. Hold on to the that thought, Southampton fans…

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.

45 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Leicester look a little bit frustrated. Southampton take ages over a throw and a few of their players let the opposition know they’re not happy with their cumbersome approach.

44 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Another corner for Leicester – this time Tielemans goes long and Bednarek meets the ball with a firm head.

There are three minutes to add – its seems as if it should be at least double that – but Southampton won’t mind.

42 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

The target for Southampton is to get to the break at 0-0. I reckon they’ll do it…

40 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Leicester go short from a corner and Thomas overhits the cross in the manner of someone trying to see just how far they can kick a ball…not overly impressive, that…

38 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

The hosts are having to work hard – no shock there – but when they do get in the opposition half they have no outlet and it’s hard to see how this match doesn’t continue with the defence vs attack feeling of the past 20 minutes.

36 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Better from the visitors – Iheanacho plays in Tielemans first time and his shot is saved by the legs of McCarthy.

That opportunity came about due to some quick, first-time passing rather than the ponderous passing of earlier.

35 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

It’s defence vs attack at the moment and Maddison shows some fine close control to work a shot from 30 yards on the right that McCarthy saves well.

33 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Leicester, having failed with neat intricate passing, look for the long ball to feed Vardy. This too doesn’t trouble the Southampton defence.

Next up Iheanacho is reduced to having a shot from distance that is easily saved.

30 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

I have been a bit underwhelmed by Leicester – they’ve a man advantage and have created nothing. McCarthy in the Southampton goal hasn’t had a save of note to make.

Every minute that stays the same is a bit of a triumph for the hosts.

27 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

This is good to see – there is a break in play so Fofana can break his fast (he observes Ramadan). He rushes to the touchline to have a drink and eat a banana. Until this season I hadn’t seen that in the Premier League – hopefully it’s here to stay.

25 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Leicester are moving the ball around, using the width of the pitch – it’s all rather pretty BUT all in front of the deep-lying Southampton and again the visitors fail to fashion a chance.

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…

21 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

No real chances for Leicester since the sending off. Southampton are sitting deep – expect that for the rest of the match – and down well, so far…

17 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Redmond gets the ball 30 yards out from Walker-Peters, he’s unchallenged and decides to have a pop. It’s a good effort, one that swerves in the air and Schmeichel palms it away. Encouraging for the hosts.

15 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

If there s a crumb of comfort for Southampton fans it’s that they were already 1-0 down when Bertrand was sent off after 12 minutes in the 9-0 defeat…

That’s probably not helping, is it? Sorry, I will try to stop talking about that 9-0…

14 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Early change for the hosts due to the red card.

Tella, who had that chance to put Southampton 1-0 up, is off for Salisu.

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…

7 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Good chance for Tella who scuffs his shot from the edge of the area.

Soyuncu loses the ball 25 yards out and the ball is played to Tella who hits it first time in the manner of someone still looking for their first goal.

6 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Adams and Redmond combine well on the left – they cannot fashion a chance but it’s promising from Southampton.

4 mins: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

Leicester have a free kick on halfway. It’s played to Thomas, who gets the run on Minamino, and his knockdown goes long.

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.

1 min: Southampton 0-0 Leicester

We’re under way on the south coast – the hosts are in their rather fetching red kit with the white sash type thing and Leicester in the usual blue kit.

The teams are out on the pitch

And we’re all but ready to go…

Such has been Leicester’s fine form that

Finishing fourth would feel like a disappointment for Rodgers’ team. They’re good away from home and will look at this as a good chance for three points to increase their chances of finishing in the top three.

Southampton’s shocking run

Here’s a stat that shocked even me, I knew they had lost form but not to this extent – tonight’s hosts have lost 12 of their past 15 league games, a run which began with defeat against Leicester.

Both sides united

In trying to stamp out racism – both have joined the football (and well beyond) three-day boycott of social media.

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…

Placeholder image for youtube video: bX_uDOMT8UM

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.

Ings will not be part of tonight’s action – the striker has a thigh injury Credit: GETTY IMAGES

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.

Wesley Fofana has impressed since his move to the King Power Stadium Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

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.”

John Percy

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.

John Percy