A depleted Southampton side missing a host of first-team players went down fighting in a first league defeat at the King Power Stadium since Leicester’s 2015/16 title-winning campaign.
James Maddison opened the scoring with an unstoppable close-range finish in the 37th minute, before Harvey Barnes wrapped up the victory in stoppage time, but that does not tell the full story.
Saints enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first half and forced Kasper Schmeichel into some crucial saves, while Stuart Armstrong rattled the keeper’s crossbar in the second period, but the equalising goal proved elusive before Barnes finished the job,
Ralph Hasenhüttl made three changes to his side as Saints finally returned to action 12 days since Liverpool were caught cold by Danny Ings’s early winner 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 for Covid-19, but goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had recovered from the virus and was back between the sticks.
Ché Adams retuned from concussion to lead the line in Ings’s absence, while Will Smallbone started on the right flank with Armstrong on the left, as the Academy graduate made his first appearance for four months.
Hasenhüttl’s depleted team settled into the game well, bossing the early possession, but the first quarter of an hour passed by without an attempt at goal from either side.
The game burst into life when Armstrong, now on the right, slid a pass down the line for Adams, who had the pace to run away from Jonny Evans and play the ball across the six-yard line, where Youri Tielemans was perfectly placed to prod it behind for a corner.
Back came Leicester, as Marc Albrighton looked for Jamie 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 repel the danger.
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.
The visitors knew they had pace in attack and were not afraid to use it, seeking the willing runs of Walcott and Adams from early balls anytime possession was turned over.
It was impressive stuff from Saints, for whom Walcott, Armstrong and Smallbone were interchanging nicely, whilst Ibrahima Diallo looked at home in midfield.
But it was the hosts who made the breakthrough eight minutes before the interval courtesy of some Maddison magic.
Latching on to a slide-rule pass from Tielemans, Maddison cleverly rolled Jack Stephens in the box, allowing the ball to come across his body before slamming an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
It was the first goal Saints had conceded since Stephens stepped in to fill the void vacated by the injured Jannik Vestergaard four games ago.
Undeterred, Saints threatened a quick-fire leveller. James Ward-Prowse pierced the Leicester defence with an inch-perfect first-time pass to release Ryan Bertrand, who went for power and thought he’d beaten Schmeichel at his near post, only for the keeper to somehow divert the ball over his own crossbar.
Hasenhüttl’s men could count themselves hard done by to be trailing at the break, and instantly set about redressing the balance after the restart when Armstrong played in Smallbone to his left, whose attempted curler was parried with sufficient force by Schmeichel to ensure Walcott was unable to sort his feet out in time to convert the follow-up.
Already without Ings, Vestergaard, Oriol Romeu, Nathan Redmond, Moussa Djenepo, Mohammed Salisu, Michael Obafemi and Nathan Tella, Saints’ cause wasn’t helped when Smallbone fell awkwardly under an innocuous challenge from Timothy Castagne, and was unable to continue.
Next in line was Dan Nlundulu, whose 13-minute cameo against Liverpool was the longest of his senior career to date, as Hasenhüttl turned to an incredibly inexperienced bench. This time the striker had half an hour to make his mark, as Walcott moved out to the wing.
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 well for the most part, but the predatory marksman was afforded a half-chance with his head that he sent over the bar, before Maddison’s pass into his path was fractionally overhit, allowing defenders to retreat.
Chances were like London buses for Vardy, who then sent a dropping ball over the bar with an attempted left-footed lob, before another headed opportunity came and went.
Hasenhüttl’s only attacking option left on the bench with any first-team experience was Shane Long, who duly replaced Adams 20 minutes from time, and was immediately in the thick of the action.
When Nlundulu found Armstrong, the Scot checked inside on to his right foot and let fly with a rocket of a shot that beat Schmeichel and left his crossbar reverberating.
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 a certain penalty, only for the Irishman to be flagged offside as Leicester survived a major scare.
At the other end, Saints were indebted to Jan Bednarek’s defensive instincts when Barnes beat McCarthy but not the covering Pole, who headed off the line.
Meanwhile, Vardy smelled blood as Saints committed more bodies forward, and might have sewn the game up when he turned inside Bednarek to open up the goal, but McCarthy kept his team in the game with a miraculous stop.
Saints kept pushing, forcing a stoppage-time corner from which Armstrong curled another shot over, but Barnes made sure of the points with a cool finish at the death.