SOUTHAMPTON 1 LEICESTER 1
Report by Eddie Blount
City had every reason to feel confident about this fixture given their recent return to form, including a semi-final win over opponents Southampton, a good recent record at St Mary’s (0-9 and all that) plus the news that Danny Ings, regularly a thorn in our side was unfit. So the omens were good though it did not appear so as the Saints had the ball in the net after a mere two minutes! Fortunately Walker-Peters, destined to be Sky’s MOM, was definitely offside though Thomas came close to playing him on.
This somewhat sleepy start from City continued and five minutes later a mistake by Soyuncu led to an excellent chance for Saints’ Tella which he scuffed badly straight at Schmeichel. Little did we know that this was to be as much attacking as the Saints were going to muster for the whole of the remainder of the game
In the 10th minute the course for the remaining 80 minutes was firmly set when Southampton were reduced to 10 men. It came out of nothing and gave rookie referee Rob Jones in only his tenth Premiership match an awkward decision. Saints’ centre-back, Vestergaard, allowed a simple pass to escape his control and tried to atone for his error with a studs up lunge for the ball which connected with it but also the ankle of the predatory Vardy lurking close by. The incident took place just outside the box though Vardy finished up well inside it! It looked a red card and you could take your pick from ‘serious foul play’ to ‘denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity.’ Apparently Jones and VAR determined it was the latter. All this of course was reminiscent of 2019 apart from the absence of the pouring rain on that memorable day.
City under Rodgers have done well when faced by 10 men but this was one which bucked the trend. Southampton were obliged to park the bus with two banks of four and Che Adams given the unenviable task of being a one-man attack as Tella was substituted for a replacement central defender. City persisted with three men at the back which was changed at half time but arguably should have been done earlier. The changes produced a sterile passage of play with constant City attacks faltering on the edge of the Saints penalty area.
Only Vardy had the pace and confidence to take defenders on and crosses were meat and drink to opponents who cleared them with ease. We needed the injured Barnes particularly as Maddison by his own admission was not up to full match fitness after his injury problems. We attacked of necessity down the flanks, there being less traffic on the M1 than was to be found in more central areas, though it was noticeable that Castagne on the right flank was much more effective than Thomas on the left though he did combine well on occasions with Vardy. Thomas has become becalmed as far as his progress is concerned perhaps unsettled by reports that we are looking to sign a left back!
Shots were few and far between and ones on target even rarer! Maddison had several attempts from distance during the match but all lacked conviction and accuracy. It was only after 33 minutes that we managed a shot on target and that was barely worthy of the description ‘feeble.’ It tells you all you need to know that the most noteworthy occurrence was the one minute break to allow Fofana to break his Ramadan fast. He was soon able to tuck into something more than juice and a banana when substituted at halftime for Perez who has apparently scored two hat-tricks against the Saints. The interval was an opportunity for reflection and two thoughts w ere uppermost. The first that we would need to be very patient and not over-commit and the second that we must not go a goal down.
Talk to yourself! In the 58th minute the climb got steeper when Saints managed a rare sortie into our half of the pitch culminating in a free kick near to the corner flag. What followed was quite dreadful with no redeeming features. City clearly decided that there would be cross into the box so Armstrong was allowed to stand on the edge of our box completely unmarked. In a training ground move the ball was played to him causing a degree of panic in the City defence. Fortunately the shot was going wide though not by too much. Less fortunately a City attacker, Iheanacho, was in line with it and raised his arms to block the ball ostensibly away from danger. It was a clear penalty under current regulations and a lifeline to the Saints which was eagerly taken by Ward-Prowse with a low shot past Schmeichel’s right hand. A test of character now ensued.
This was passed with flying colours within ten minutes when a superb cross from the atoning Iheanacho was met by the head of Evans for his second goal of the season. This led directly to the substitution of Thomas for Albrighton and what followed was City’s best spell of the game with two clear chances and several promising moments. A cross by Albrighton was brilliantly defended to keep Vardy out but the striker should have scored minutes later when he wrong-footed a defender and had his shot from close range blocked by their keeper’s legs. He then made up for this miss by teeing up Ndidi for a clear shot from the edge of the penalty area but Wilf went for sheer power rather than placement and dragged the ball wide. By this time you knew it was not to be our day.
You can debate whether this was another point in our quest for a Champions’ League place (not that bad an away point) or two points needlessly dropped. Saints clearly saw it a s a moral victory and celebrated it as such at the end whilst Maddison when interviewed after the match made no effort to hide his disappointment. Rodgers tried to be more positive as is his way but there’s no hiding from the fact that this match should have been won even though it was as he pointed out our 4th game in 13 days. My guess is the chasing pack will also have challenges and it is still all to play for despite out testing final fixtures
City: Schmeichel . Fofana (Perez 46), Evans, Soyuncu , Castagne, Thielemans, Ndidi, Thomas (Albrighton 67), Maddison, Iheanacho, Vardy
Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Stephens, Tella (Salisu 10), Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, MInamino (Diallo), Redmond, Adams (Lundulu 90)
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation