10-man Saints battle to brave point


A brave Southampton performance defied the odds to hold Champions League-bound Leicester to a draw, despite playing for 80 minutes with 10 men at St Mary’s.

Jannik Vestergaard was unfortunate to be shown a straight red card having won the ball in challenging Jamie Vardy just outside the penalty area, but his studs caught the striker on the follow-through, and referee Robert Jones was not advised to reverse his decision, or even consult the pitch-side monitor.

Saints had started well, too, but their attacking threat was heavily reduced from that moment, so it was with great glee that James Ward-Prowse converted a penalty on the hour to give the depleted hosts an improbable lead.

It would last just seven minutes, as Jonny Evans headed the Foxes level, but Alex McCarthy was in inspired form, crucially denying Vardy late on, as Saints picked up a hard-earned point that will feel like a victory.

Ralph Hasenhüttl made three changes to his side, who were back in action for the first time in nine days, as Jack Stephens, Takumi Minamino and Nathan Redmond came into the starting line-up.

Mohammed Salisu and Theo Walcott dropped to the bench, while Danny Ings joined Ryan Bertrand in the treatment room, with Stephens operating in an unfamiliar role at left-back.

Saints started well before suffering an almighty early setback. Vestergaard delivered a trademark laser pass into the path of the onrushing Kyle Walker-Peters, who surged forward from deep and kept his head to finish superbly, only to be flagged offside.

Then Minamino caught Çaglar Söyüncü in possession just outside the box, Ché Adams seized on the loose ball and set up Nathan Tella, who rather snatched at the chance and did not connect as he would have liked with a low shot smothered by Kasper Schmeichel.

It had been a bright opening, but Saints were dealt a colossal blow when Vestergaard was dismissed just 10 minutes in.

A split second of hesitation on the ball allowed Vardy to steal in, but the Dane seemed to recover by playing the ball as he slid in to redeem himself.

But his studs caught the striker on the follow-through, prompting a straight red card from referee Jones, strangely not overturned by VAR as Vestergaard trudged off and James Maddison very nearly scored from the resulting free-kick.

This had the makings of a long night, as young Tella was unfortunately sacrificed for Salisu, with Hasenhüttl switching to a 4-2-2-1 formation, but Redmond soon stung the palms of Schmeichel as the home team showed they were not prepared to lie down.

As the half wore on, Leicester began to enjoy more control. Kelechi Iheanacho and Maddison both tried their luck from distance, while Youri Tielemans had a better opportunity only to be denied by the legs of McCarthy, who was starting to rack up a few saves.

But for the most part Saints had done a fine job of keeping the Foxes at bay; a pattern that continued into the second half, despite increasing Leicester possession.

The hosts needed a break from somewhere, and they got it when Iheanacho inexplicably handled a rising shot from Stuart Armstrong high above his head, prompting Jones, after a momentary delay, to point to the spot.

Ward-Prowse would have known the 10 men would not get a better chance than this and duly made no mistake, drilling a low spot-kick down to Schmeichel’s right and out of reach, leaving Saints on course for an unlikely victory.

Instead the goal stung Leicester into action, as half-time substitute Ayoze Pérez forced McCarthy’s best save to date, high to his left, but it was unlikely scorer Evans who finally broke Saints’ resistance, as the defender nodded home a teasing cross from Iheanacho from eight yards.

Now the visitors had a spring in their step and things were about to become even more difficult for Saints as the game entered its final quarter.

By now every player from both sides was camped inside the Southampton half, with the exception of the lone figure of Schmeichel, who bellowed messages of encouragement to his teammates, who must have been wondering if it was going to be their night.

That feeling would have heightened when Walker-Peters miraculously denied Vardy a simple header at the far post, defying his slight frame to head clear under intense pressure at the far post.

When Vardy was found in the box, he jinked inside only to find McCarthy saving again with his feet, before Wilfred Ndidi fired wide in a tense finale that showcased Saints’ spirit in the face of tremendous adversity.