St.Mary's, Saturday, 17.30
Alcaraz scores the winning goal for Saints
IBO Reporter: Spot51
The fact that I've been researching "lowest points totals" shows just how far we have fallen. When Pompey went down in 2010 they had 19 points after a 9 point deduction for going into administration. We have 18 but I'm struggling to see where further points may come from.
One of our better chances comes today with the visit of Leicester who, like us, were dumped out of the FA Cup by a lower league side midweek. Unfortunately, Madison has recovered from his illness and will probably play today. That makes our chances of 3 points look more remote as he is the spark that allows them to rise above being poor and, sometimes, look half decent.
We have had big wins against City and Chelsea but cannot seem to perform when we face lesser threats. I fail to understand why our players can look like world beaters one week then clueless the next. Basic, professional pride should kick in to stop serving up the piss poor performances we have had to endure this season.
Injuries to Leicester defenders has been held up as an excuse for their poor results and they are without Justin and Kristiansen for weeks and Bertie and Evans today so the back line was Riccardo, Souttar, Faes and Castagne with Ward in goal. Tielemans is also injured so Mendy was assisted by Dewsbury Hall sat behind Tete, Maddison and Barnes with Ihaenacho up top.
Ruben started with AMN, Bednarek, ABK and KWP in front of Baz. JWP and Lavia played in the middle with Theo and Kammy wide and Charley in the hole behind Ché. It looked decent on paper and it was nice to see Theo starting after some recent cameos from the bench.
Today's Ref was Rob Jones with Tony Harrington on VAR. Neither appear on Spot's Wall of Shame!
Sky were showing this match and as usual we had two Leicester stalwarts in Heskey and Alan Bloody Smith and, as a reminder of our darkest days, Rednapp Junior. Sat beside Smith on the gantry was Pien Meulensteen, making her Sky's first female commentator. Sky have long used "eye candy" blondes as presenters but this was something new. Also setting milestones today were our captain, Prowsey finally overtaking Jason Dodd's EPL record with a 330th game, and Theo who was making his 350th top flight appearance.
Both sides wore their "home" kit and Leicester kicked off towards the Chapel End. Saints made the early running with Charley and the Skipper looking lively. The former took our first shot which appeared to strike Kammy before being cleared. Leicester's first attack should have gained them a corner but the lino gave us a goal kick.
Down our right wing the 2 former Gooners linked up well. On 7m AMN played in Theo, whose shot was blocked. With Maddison drifting to their left, Theo was also doing his defensive duties to help out Maitland Niles. When Maddison did find Tete overlapping, Baz was quickly out to catch his cross.
As Leicester began to dominate possession the game moved nearer our goal. We set up well to defend and forced them sideways and backwards for long periods. Indeed we won a string of free kicks in our own half after taking the ball off them and getting clobbered. Tete did get a sight of goal but his shot cannoned off a white shirt. Then a low cross by Riccardo beat everyone including Iheanacho and went out for a throw.
When we recovered the ball we sought to get forward quickly and this worked well on 14m when Alcaraz' shot flew off a defender and behind. Leicester cleared the resulting corner. Following a brief delay, while Lavia needed the magic sponge, Theo up-ended Maddison near the left corner of our box. He got up to fire in the free-kick which seemed to hit the striker in the face and it flew wide of Baz's near post.
On 21m Alcaraz carried the ball into their half but a heavy touch saw Castagne clear it. Our young Argie left his foot in and had Alan Bloody Smith screaming for a red card. The Ref showed his yellow one but the slow motion showed it could have led to him having an early shower…
Our next attack saw Kammy skin Riccardo before finding Lavia, but his cross was firmly headed away by Maes. Leicester then worked an opening for Tete but the shot was blocked - corner Leicester. From the corner, the Foxes worked the ball to Barnes whose shot was blocked. We could not get the ball away and they recycled it to Tete - his shot was blocked but this time the ball dribbled through so Baz could claim it. Leicester soon won it back, broke down the left where Barnes cut into our box, but again the ball went close to Baz who grabbed it. Phew!
Leicester continued to press us back and a lovely Maddison pass found Iheanacho, but he'd gone too soon and was flagged offside. Soon after, we broke up another attack and Mendy fouled Lavia to prevent the breakaway.
After several minutes of "backs to the wall" defending Saints started mounting their own attacks again. Suddenly a ball was played behind their defence and Theo ran onto it. Looking up, he measured a cut back cross which hit the raised arm of the sliding Castagne. The lino flagged and Rob Jones pointed to the spot.
Afterwards JWP admitted he'd have preferred a free kick from 25 yards but his penalty kick was firm if not right in the corner. Ward dived the right way, got a firm glove on the ball and away it went. An enormous sigh went up from the home support but, rather than knock us back, Saints seemed to be inspired from this point on and the "kitchen sink" was thrown at Leicester's defence for the next few minutes. JWP sent in a cross from the left, but Alacaraz put his header straight at Ward, then Kammy was set up by Lavia, but stuck it wide of the post.
Success finally arrived as Leicester broke upfield with Maddison carrying the ball down their left. Lavia's trademark tackle won the ball which broke to Bednarek, who sent it forward to AMN. Theo sprinted ahead but, rather than feed him, the full back played his pass to Ché on halfway. Before the ball arrived Alcaraz had begun sprinting past the defenders and Ché laid the ball perfectly into his stride. The youngster went away from his pursuers and, with Ward coming out to cover his angles, our man chose to hit the ball from outside the box. It flew past the keeper and nestled in the far corner of the net. Cue pandemonium.
Celebrations were quickly curtailed as the message "VAR check for offside" appeared and pictures of Ché's foot in relation to the Foxes' back line were repeatedly shown on TV. Who knows FFS? These close calls can go either way and tend not to favour us. Not this time though. The goal stood - 1-0 Saints.
Moments after the restart Alcaraz went down clutching his knee. Apparently he'd hurt it whilst carrying out an extravagant knee slide during his goal celebration. After treatment he was able to carry on, but seemed to be moving very gingerly.
Saints were now on top and Kammy sent Ché away, but this time the flag did go up and play was brought back. Then, as Faes tried to bring the ball forward, he was downed by a clumsy tackle by Alcaraz who still didn't look right.
Leicester made a foray forward but ABK saw off Tete and won us a goal kick. Our next attack ended as JWP went past Barnes, who upended him and was carded. The camera then showed Moi with his trackie off and it looked like Charley may not last till halftime should the ball go out. Meanwhile Ché sent Kammy forward, he got his shot away but it was saved by Ward.
Four added minutes saw ABK keeping Iheanacho under control and a number of fouls. The last of these, on JWP, earned Maddison a yellow card. Half time, 1-0 Saints and time to feed Bart (Ed. Spot's dog!).
Armed with a bottle of Nastro, I returned and flashed through the studio pundits agreeing Charley should have gone, but enjoyed the "as it stands" table with Bournemouth bottom! Leicester hooked Barnes and put Praet out left but Alcaraz reappeared with his knee all strapped up.
He was fouled 2m into the half, giving JWP a free kick on our left. Despite the angle JWP shot and it was on target. Ward foiled him again, catching it just under his crossbar. The camera then showed Moi again, but now he was stood by the 4th official waiting to come on.
Dennis Praet's first involvement was a peach of a cross just asking to be stuck away but sadly for him Iheanacho was having a 'mare and headed it beyond the back post. With the ball dead, our scorer trudged off, with Moi coming on. I expected him to go left with Kammy up with Ché, but the Norwegian was given that role.
Fouls and free kicks were traded, but the game gradually moved into our half. There was a nasty collision when Tete and KWP crashed into each other, but thankfully both were able to carry on. Leicester won a corner when Lavia sliced a clearance behind, but the cross went over everyone and Ché was able to bring it away.
On the hour Ruben took off Ché and Theo. Ché was returning from injury and Theo starting his first game in months, so it was no surprise. However we'd now replaced 3 influential forwards and both Adam Armstrong and Mara have been shockingly bad of late. Ché also refused to walk round the pitch and was carded for going across it!
Mara was soon needing treatment after being knocked over by Souttar - think colliding with a brick shithouse. With the ball back in play, it found itself at the feet of Baz. Inexplicably our keeper kicked the ball to Iheanacho who only needed to roll it into the corner: thankfully he hit it hard and high, rippling the netting as it went over…
Our ventures into their half were now rare, but on 68m JWP got in range, only to see his effort blocked. When the ball next went dead, off came Mendy and Tete - their replacements being Ndidi and, to loud boos from the home fans, Jamie Vardy. Sky put up a timely stat explaining that we'd had 5 shots on target to their 0.
It was 75m gone before we had another attack but as Mara latched onto Kammy's pass the flag went up. AA was helping man the barricades but an over-eager challenge on Maddison saw him booked. On 80m Ruben sent on Stu for Kammy but we were still playing largely in our half. A forward pass was contested by Vardy and Bednarek - Vardy got the ball, Bednarek headed him and went down - poleaxed. I was concerned about concussion but the Pole was soon back on his feet. Recently he has begun to look like a decent defender and we don't want him unavailable for selection.
The last 10 minutes was a grim watch with Leicester laying siege to our box, but we kept our shape and made it hard for them. Bednarek was a real leader (for a change) and got his head on most balls into our box. Having missed decent chances already, Iheanacho decided on a shot from distance. Bad call - Baz watched it sail over into Row whatever.
The Nigerian was now joined upfront by Vardy, with Maddison left and Praet down their right. The Belgian looking one of their better players. On 85m his cross was blocked by ABK, giving them another corner. Maddison delivered the ball for Faes to head, but Baz was again able to watch it fly wide.
Suddenly we broke out. The ball reached Mara, but he rushed his shot and put it wide. At the other end ABK made another decisive tackle, averting another Leicester attack. Smith gave Ché his MoM which was a decent call. If he could just add goals to his hold up play: he would in all likelihood not be with Saints.
When the +5m board was raised, Saints were trying to waste time in the Chapel/Kingsland corner but both sides went rough house, as Leicester tried to win the ball back and Rob Jones let it all go. Mara and AA may not hit the proverbial bovine backside with a stringed instrument, but they ran their hearts out trying to close the Foxes down.
Inevitably play returned to the edge of our box and I doubt I was the only Scummer dreading the inevitable late equaliser. Eventually JWP brought Maddison down, creating the opportunity for him to swing in another cross. The skipper was booked too.
Thankfully ABK met the cross, heading it behind and Maddison then took the resulting corner. His initial cross was headed away, but came back to him at a better angle. This time his cross was bang on the money. Baz came flying out and tried to punch, but was never getting there. Time stood still as Souttar rose, unchallenged, to power his header goalwards.
TFFT! The big Aussie's header hit the crossbar and flew over. Moments later the full time whistle went and Saints had somehow grabbed all 3 points and were, indeed, no longer bottom. Leicester had moved the ball well, dominated possession yet couldn't once hit the target. Some 1-0s can be called "1-0 thrashings". This wasn't one of them.
Leicester are starting to look shaky. I hadn't imagined they would be part of this relegation battle but this result sees us just 3 points behind them. I don't give a monkey's which 3 teams finish below us, just as long as there are 3 worse than the Saints. It was an OK performance, but a massive result!
One final record set on 4th March 2023 was that, for the first time ever, all 7 EPL matches were home wins. Good day to be at home, Saints!
I was rather surprised Alan Smith did not make James Maddison his MoM. I guess it is not the done thing to select a player from a losing side, but we often do it on IBO reports. He was key to all the good things Leicester did and it wasn't his fault his mates were so profligate.
There were a number of contenders from our team. Indeed, there was not one of them who had an absolute stinker, which makes a nice change. In the first half, Ché, Theo and Charley all impressed and Lavia was his usual competent self. However, this game was largely a rearguard action for Saints and our centre backs (helped by Leicester not testing Baz at all) both coped well. Given ABK is a class act, I choose Jan Bednarek who rarely looks one. This was a step up from his recent showings and I hope he continues on this trajectory in the following matches. Well played Jan!
Charlie Alcaraz shows how not to celebrate scoring, as he injured his knee and had to be substituted