James Maddison showed the way forward both for Leicester City’s title aspirations and for Covid-19 protocols as he marked his first-half goal by shooing his teammates away before miming the whole range of socially-distanced celebrations.
The England hopeful blasted home a fine first-half goal from an acute angle to help Leicester move second in the Premier League ahead of today’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Southampton, losing away for the first time since the opening day, were denied a fourth successive clean sheet as they created enough chances to win but in the end it was the modestly-mannered Maddison whose sole strike proved the difference between two excellent sides.
It was against the run of play that Maddison gave Leicester the lead eight minutes before half-time. The midfielder, back from a knee injury, ran on to Youri Tielemans’s channel pass and evaded Jack Stephens with deft footwork before unleashing a powerful left-footed shot into the near top corner.
The fit-again Alex McCarthy could not get a hand to it and Maddison celebrated his eighth goal of the season by offering his teammates polite air-handshakes and pretend high-fives.
Despite Danny Ings joining an absentee list of seven players, Southampton dominated the opening 30 minutes and should have been ahead before Maddison’s opening goal.
They were the more penetrative side in terms of chances created and Che Adams was unfortunate – or at fault, according to how you want to see it – to not capitalise when presented with two clear sights of goal down the inside-right channel.
Firstly he timed his run from his own half perfectly to stay onside and latch on to Stuart Armstrong’s pass before curving in towards goal and clipping a neat shot just over Kasper Schmeichel, only for the ball to hit Tielemans’s hand and go out for a corner. There was no appeal for a penalty for a shot at such close range.
Then, after Harvey Barnes’s side-footed effort from a Marc Albrighton pass was saved by McCarthy, Southampton again got in with some ease on the counter-attack. Will Smallbone, the young Irish midfielder making his third appearance of the season, fizzed a pass in that Theo Walcott flicked out to Adams. This time Schmeichel saved the well-struck right-footed shot at his near post.
Jonny Evans then had to make a great saving tackle as Walcott threatened to run on to Adams’s cushion-volleyed return, but Leicester held on and then took the lead themselves.
Even then Southampton threatened, Schmeichel making another fine save from Ryan Bertrand’s shot when the left-back ran clear on to James Ward Prowse’s astute through pass.
Southampton’s excellent form on the road continued in terms of performance if not in front of goal immediately from the restart, as Armstrong played in Smallbone. His excellent shot was saved once again by Schmeichel.
Bertrand again found space high and wide on the left only to over-club his volleyed cross when Adams was primed in the middle.
Their luck was in however when Ibrahima Diallo, booked just before half-time for a foul on Albrighton, was allowed to pull back Maddison with impunity. Many of the Leicester players moved, hands aloft, towards Stuart Attwell. Yet the referee, for reasons best known to himself, decided against producing a second yellow card.
Jamie Vardy headed wide from one Barnes cross and then over from another, but Leicester continued to struggle against Southampton’s fluent, first-time passing game. It was less that Rodgers’s team were playing poorly, and more that the visitors were just better. But the scoreline was what counted.
The closest Southampton came to scoring arrived 17 minutes from time when Stuart Armstrong cut in from the left hand side, nipping laterally past defenders while getting his body shape right to crack a superb shot from 20 yards against the crossbar.
Even after that Armstrong set Ward-Prowse up but the Southampton captain’s shot went spinning wide. McCarthy saved superbly as Vardy, sent in by James Justin five minutes from time, looked set to seal the win.
In injury time, though, Barnes raced on to a pass to slot past McCarthy and put the gloss on the performance.