IBO Reporter : channonite
|One thing with Ralph is his attention to detail. We may carp on about his use of substitutions, but it is clear that he thinks long and hard about each individual opponents strengths and weaknesses. With Leicester, one of their obvious threats is the long ball over the top for Vardy to run onto. So you wonder how the Saints manager was going to deal with this. Within the first few minutes it was clear that McCarthy was coming way off his line, frequently outside his area and on one occasion on the edge of the centre circle. What was going on?
It was a few minutes before it dawned on me what McCarthy was coming off his line for, when a long ball, which was clearly intended for Vardy to run onto, was intercepted by Bednarek and headed a short distance to the goalkeeper, who was already way outside his area. This was intentional and it worked, as the effectiveness of Vardy was almost completely nullified for the majority of the game.
It was also obvious why McCarthy with his mobility, was brought back into the side, as Fraser Forster just would not have been able to play that sort of a game. A bit unfair on the big man, having just kept a clean sheet against Liverpool, but understandable.
Not long after, Jack Stephens made an attempted clearance, but only succeeded in finding Tielemans who in turn found Albrighton inside the area. He squared the ball across to the left, Vardy stepped over the ball and the onrushing Barnes cracked a shot on target, which McCarthy did well to parry away for a throw-in.
Saints then went through a period of controlling the game, swarming all over the Leicester players every time they had possession and playing some lovely one touch football, all of this without truly worrying Schmeichel in goal.
By this time I was heartily sick of hearing the BTSport going on about 'that' game, way back in September 2019.
Then, with more than half an hour gone and completely against the run of play, Leicester made the breakthrough. There was a long run of play, beginning with Diallo in possession and being fouled at least twice, right in front of the referee, but nothing was given, to the Saints' players obvious disgust. Stephens cleared the ball twice, but at the second time of asking Walcott lost possession and from some way out, Tielemans placed a slide-rule pass at the feet of Maddison who, from a very tight angle, succeeded in turning the Saints number 5 and crashing a shot into the roof of the net. 1-0. McCarthy didn't have a chance to stop that. Very disappointing.
Saints then had their own great passage of play involving several different players and ending with Bertrand through on goal. He shot was firm and on target, but Schmeichel was equal to the task and just managed to push the ball over for a corner to Saints. Unfortunately the corner came to nothing.
Diallo was booked just before the break for a pretty innocuous infraction, certainly far less of an obvious foul than the one perpetrated on him in the build up to the Leicester goal. He was not happy.
So, half-time arrived and 1-0 to the home side, but Saints were right in this game, make no mistake about it.
Almost as soon as the second half began, Saints had a marvellous chance, when the impressive Armstrong drove forward and slid the ball out to the left, where Will Smallbone sent a lovely curling shot towards the top far corner, but again Schmeichel was equal to it and flew across the goalmouth, parrying the ball as far as Walcott, who caught by surprise, only succeeded in pushing it behind for a goal kick.
Smallbone then got injured in an accidental clash and went down clutching his knee. He tried to continue, but collapsed on the ground again soon after. He was replaced by N'Lundulu and it wasn't until the Monday that we learned that the impressive youngster had an ACL injury and would be out for at least six months. Really tough luck for him.
Leicester then played the ball about keeping possession and looking for an opening. Eventually the ball found it's way to Vardy, probably no more than six yards from goal, but he contrived to head it way over the bar. The surprise was palpable. The home side were beginning to press Saints higher up the pitch and the visitors were back-pedalling to cope with this. Ralph's response was to take off Adams and send on Long. Now, I have liked Long a lot over the years, but I get the impression that he is having less and less impact when he comes on this season, which is a shame. He still works his socks off mind you, but there appears to be no end product now.
Saints then managed to relieve the pressure by keeping the ball and quickly moving up the field. N'Lundulu and Armstrong were both notably aggressive and with a determination to make things happen. Armstrong took possession and looking up saw Schmeichel just off his line and as quick as a flash sent a tremendous volley goal wards. It looked a certainty, beating the goalkeeper, but agonisingly crashing against the bar, shooting up into the night sky, coming down still in play and provoking an almighty scramble for the ball. Long ended up flat on his face, with Saints players screaming for a penalty, but the linesman was already flagging for offside. And the chance was gone.
Leicester re-established their dominance working around a sometimes desperate Saints rearguard action. Bednarek cleared one dangerous ball, but Leicester just moved the ball to the other side, where the waiting Barnes shot beyond Foster, who was at the near post. It looked like a cast iron certain goal, but from nowhere, Bednarek appeared to clear off the line. Phew!
Saints were continually looking for the equaliser, but leaving themselves stretched at the back and almost conceded the second when they allowed Vardy room to shoot, but McCarthy, diving at his feet, managed to push the ball away.
Into time added on, caution was thrown to the wind, as Saints pushed forward and they were eventually caught out with just seconds left of the 5 minutes added, when Leicester broke at pace and Barnes had time and space to coolly slot home past McCarthy to make it 2-0. Harsh to concede like that, we had gambled and lost.
I have seen Saints play worse and win comfortably, but considering the litany of injuries to key players, not to mention Ings having to self-isolate, the replacements played really well. The nasty injury to Smallbone was distressing to see, particularly as he had been playing so well.
Man of the Match
The standout for me was Stuart Armstrong, who had a really good match and put absolutely everything into it. By half time his white kit was varying shades of brown, he had been tackled so many times and he came closest of anyone to actually scoring.