SOUTHAMPTON’S style has won many admirers this season but persistence rather than flamboyance lay at the heart of this victory, their 11th in their past 12 matches. Ronald Koemanâ€™s team struggled to overcome doughty Leicester City until Shane Long came off the bench to extend their fine start to the campaign and end his own wait for a league goal.
The Irishman came into the game hoping to fend off mutterings about him being the one ill-advised purchase during Southamptonâ€™s successful summer revamp and, after being introduced in the second half, he began justifying his Â£12m transfer from Hull with two nifty finishes that banished the disgruntlement that was beginning to infect St Maryâ€™s.
The match began amid relentless rain and ended with gloomy forecasts for Leicester, who have now collected a solitary point from their past six matches and failed to even score in the past four. â€œWe need to be more ruthless in both boxes, but I have got great belief in these players,â€ said Nigel Pearson, whose team displayed plenty of tenacity as they kept Southampton at bay for long periods.
The home side hogged possession but the only fright for Leicesterâ€™s goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, in the first 20 minutes was when Ryan Bertrand pinged a dangerous cross to Dusan Tadic. The header that followed suggested that aerial power is not one of the wingerâ€™s many attributes.
In the 21st minute Nathaniel Clyne troubled Schmeichel for the first time, his 20-yard rasper forcing a save from the Dane. Leicester took that as a cue to assert their own ability going forward, and they won a couple of corners in quick succession, Wes Morgan going close with a header from one. But the visitors could not build on that and spent most of the rest of the match in their own half.
â€œWe were the dominant team but we did not create a lot of opportunities,â€ said Koeman.
â€œWe spoke about that at half-time and said that if we keep good organisation and had a clean sheet, we will score because we have players who will make the difference.â€
Long arrived in the 68th minute in place of Sadio ManÃ©, perhaps the Southampton player most guilty of undoing promising work by delivering wayward final passes.
The breakthrough soon followed. Jack Cork hoisted a cross into the box and Graziano PellÃ¨ took it down and teed up Long, who curled a lovely finish into the far corner to an explosion of relief around the ground. It must have soothed him, too, after failing to find the net in his previous nine league games for the Saints, with his only goal coming in the Capital One Cup.
â€œShane is doing very well,â€ said Koeman, who never lost faith in his recruit. â€œHe had some adaptation problems in the beginning, the way we play and train is much different to what he had in the past. You have to keep talking with the player so that he keeps confidence. He made the difference in the last part of this game.â€
Long demonstrated his confidence five minutes after his first goal, when a deep pass from Victor Wanyama found Leicester caught short at the back for once. Long fired expertly past Schmeichel. Cue the â€œWeâ€™re going to win the leagueâ€ chants that are becoming a regular, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, feature of Southampton home games.
Not that Koeman is saying Southampton are destined to fall down the table. â€œMaybe the big teams have more quality players than we have but I donâ€™t see a big difference between how they play and us,â€ he said.
â€œ[Esteban] Cambiasso said to me at the end: â€˜What a good team you have,â€™ and thatâ€™s a big compliment from a great player.â€ – The Guardian