Leicester City moved up to second in the Premier League after seeing off a resilient Southampton side at the King Power Stadium.
Despite missing a host of first team players, the Saints went down fighting as a clinical Foxes side sealed a 2-0 victory, but that does not tell the full story.
James Maddison opened the scoring with a clinical close-range finish just before the break, before Harvey Barnes wrapped up victory in stoppage time for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
Southampton enjoyed the majority of possession in the first half and forced Kasper Schmeichel into some crucial saves, whilst Stuart Armstrong rattled the keeper’s crossbar in the second period, but the equalising goal proved elusive before Barnes finished the job.
Goalkeeper Schmeichel headlined City’s team news as he captained the side on his 400th appearance for the club, while the Foxes welcomed back Maddison and striker Jamie Vardy after they sat out the 4-0 FA Cup win at Stoke City.
Ralph Hasenhuttl made three changes to his side as Saints returned to action 12 days since Liverpool were caught cold by Danny Ings’ early strike against his former club at St. Mary’s.
This time the boss would have to do without his top scorer, with Ings sidelined having tested positive from Covid-19, but goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had recovered from the virus and was back in goal.
Che Adams returned from concussion to lead the line in Ings’ absence, while Will Smallbone started on the right as the academy graduate made his first appearance for four months.
The depleted Saints settled into the game well, bossing the early possession, but the first 15 minutes passed by without an attempt at goal from either side.
However, the game soon burst into life. Armstrong slid a pass down the line for Adams, who had the pace to break away from Jonny Evans and play the ball across the six-yard line, but Youri Tielemans was perfectly placed to put the ball behind for a corner.
Back came Leicester, though, as Marc Albrighton looked for Vardy in the box, who cleverly dummied the ball for the onrushing Barnes, who forced the first save of the game from McCarthy, diving to his right to deny the hosts.
Saints responded when Smallbone’s first-time pass was helped on by Theo Walcott for strike partner Adams, who tried to beat Schmeichel at his near post but found the keeper equal to it.
However, it was the hosts who made the breakthrough eight minutes before the interval courtesy of some Maddison magic.
Latching onto a low ball through from Tielemans, Maddison cleverly beat Jack Stephens in the box, allowing the ball to roll across his body before slamming it high into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Undeterred, Saints threatened to level quickly. James Ward-Prowse played a great pass to release Ryan Bertrand down the left, who went for power and thought he’d beaten Schmeichel, only for the keeper to somehow turn the ball over the bar.
Hasenhuttl’s men could count themselves hard done by to be trailing at the break, and set about redressing the balance after half time when Stuart Armstrong played in Smallbone to his left, whose attempted curler was parried by sufficient force by Schmeichel that Walcott was unable to sort his feet out in time to convert the rebound.
Saints continued to enjoy most of the ball, but Leicester are always content to play on the counter attack, which plays into the hands of the lightning-quick Vardy.
The visitors had contained him for the most part, but the marksman was afforded half a chance with his head that he sent over the bar, before Maddison’s path into his path was fractionally overhit, allowing Saints to retreat.
Chances were like London buses for Vardy, who then sent a dropping ball over the bar with an attempted lob, before another headed opportunity came and went.
Hasenhuttl’s only senior attacking option on the bench was Shane Long, who duly replaced Adams twenty minutes from time, and was immediately in the thick of the action.
Woodwork deny Saints
When sub Daniel Nlundulu found Armstrong, the Scot checked inside on to his right foot and let fly with a powerful effort that beat Schmeichel and left his crossbar rattling. Goal frame still shaking, the ball looped into the air and was followed in by Long, who was pushed in the back for what looked like a certain penalty, only for the Irishman to be flagged offside as Leicester survived a real scare.
At the other end, Saints were indebted to Jan Bednarek’s defensive instincts when Barnes beat McCarthy with a shot but not the covering Pole, who headed off the line.
Meanwhile, Vardy could have wrapped the game up as Saints committed more bodies forward when he turned inside Stephens to open up the goal, but McCarthy kept the visitors alive with a great stop.
City seal victory
Southampton kept pushing, forcing a stoppage time corner which Armstrong curled another shot over, but Leicester raced up the other end on the break to secure victory.
Tielemans won the ball in midfield and slipped in Barnes, who made sure of the points with a cool finish at the death.