Saints' cup dream ends at Wembley


Southampton were denied a first appearance in an Emirates FA Cup final since 2003 as Kelechi Iheanacho scored the only goal of a forgettable semi-final for a Leicester side who now have the chance to win the trophy for the first time in their history.

The in-form Nigerian marksman continued his recent purple patch with a fortuitous 55th-minute winner, reacting sharply in the box after his initial shot broke kindly his way via the shins of Jannik Vestergaard.

It would prove the only shot on target of the entire game, with neither goalkeeper forced to make a save in a subdued contest not dissimilar to the first semi-final between Chelsea and Manchester City at an eerily quiet Wembley.

The national stadium did welcome back spectators for the first time in more than 12 months, with 4,000 locals scattered across two tiers of the vast stadium, which swallowed them up with swathes of empty red seats.

Ralph Hasenhüttl will have pondered making changes to his side after a strangely out-of-sorts performance at West Brom last time out in the Premier League.

Ultimately he made just one alteration, as Moussa Djenepo replaced Theo Walcott on the left flank, with Nathan Redmond continuing as the closest support to Danny Ings up front.

The Foxes were the first to threaten when Youri Tielemans fed Ayoze Perez on the edge of the box, but the Spaniard’s shot was high and wide of target.

However, the bigger talking point was in the move leading up to the chance, as Ibrahima Diallo was shown a yellow card for a late tackle on Jamie Vardy that left the Leicester talisman is serious discomfort. After a lengthy delay, Vardy soldiered on.

The second semi-final was soon following the same rather flat feel as the first, with chances at a premium at both ends.

Saints’ best moment came from a deep cross by Redmond that was helped back across goal by Ings, only for the Leicester defence to intervene.

Diallo and James Ward-Prowse were busy, covering ground to win back possession all over the pitch, as Saints slowly grew to their task.

But the white shirts were nearly picked off when Jan Bednarek vacated his position only to be beaten to the ball by Vardy, sparking a quick-fire counter that resulted in an overhit cross by Perez just beyond the in-form Iheanacho, who was lurking at the far post.

Undeterred, the uncompromising Pole went thundering into a challenge to win the ball cleanly from Iheanacho near the touchline moments later.

Ward-Prowse’s first opportunity to deliver a set-piece saw him target Vestergaard from a wide free-kick, before a well-rehearsed low corner threatened to catch Leicester out.

In between times, however, the skipper was sold short by Diallo on the halfway line, inviting the Foxes to utilise the express pace of Vardy, who was played in by Tielemans but just forced wide enough by the retreating Bednarek, and he couldn’t squeeze his left-footed chip inside the near post as Fraser Forster rushed out.

Still waiting for the game’s first shot on target, Wilfred Ndidi’s glancing header from a Tielemans corner was watched onto the top of his net by Forster.

Leicester came closer still from their next corner, as Jonny Evans sent a looping header back across goal that was bravely dealt with under his own crossbar by Bednarek as Vardy charged in.

After Diallo was booked early in the first half, the same fate befell Caglar Soyuncu early in the second period when he wiped out Walker-Peters, prompting another Ward-Prowse delivery towards Vestergaard, this time headed over by the Dane.

Saints had started well since the restart, but it was the on-song Iheanacho who broke the deadlock on 55 minutes.

Vardy spun away from Bednarek on the left touchline and charged towards the byeline, cutting the ball back for his strike partner, who was fortunate in that his first shot struck Vestergaard on its way wide, bouncing back into his path to steer a much simpler chance past Forster from eight yards.

Hasenhüttl responded instantly by introducing Ché Adams from the bench in place of Redmond, before another swirling Ward-Prowse corner put pressure on Kasper Schmeichel, who clawed the ball away to safety.

The first contribution from the substitute was to receive a pass from Ings in the box and shoot against the legs of a defender, before Diallo blazed over from 20 yards as Saints signalled some greater attacking intent.

Diallo had never scored for Saints but he was getting closer, showing impressive technique to keep down a half-volley from the edge of the area that Schmeichel could only stand and watch as the ball rattled into the stanchion beside his right-hand post.

With 17 minutes to save themselves, Saints turned to Theo Walcott to replace Djenepo, by which point Iheanacho’s goal remained the only attempt on target from either side.

Iheanacho threatened to turn provider for Leicester substitute James Maddison, who drilled the ball over the bar on his left foot, before Maddison sized up a 25-yarder on his stronger right foot that was more to his liking and sent Forster flinging himself to his right, relieved to see the ball sail narrowly wide.

Hasenhüttl’s last card was to withdraw both full-backs, as Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand were sacrificed, prompting the arrival of Mohammed Salisu and Nathan Tella as the clock ticked down to its final five minutes.

But, try as they might, Saints were unable to fashion one big chance that would force the tie into extra time, and, for the second time in four seasons, fell short at the semi-final stage.