Maguire hits win­ner to make Puel’s day

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By Tom Pren­tki at St Mary’s Sta­dium

Jose Mour­inho’s loss is Claude Puel’s gain. Le­ices­ter’s de­ci­sion to re­sist a re­ported £60mil­lion bid from Manch­ester United for Harry Maguire looks to have been a sen­si­ble one.

The de­fender (right) was ex­cel­lent through­out and scored a 92nd-minute win­ner with a 30-yard shot that went through the legs of two de­fend­ers.

It had the nor­mally re­served Puel rac­ing on to the pitch, fists pump­ing as he ex­pressed re­lief and joy. He has not en­joyed the eas­i­est time in English foot­ball, hav­ing been sacked at St Mary’s de­spite an eighth-place fin­ish and a jour­ney to the League Cup Fi­nal. “My char­ac­ter is not im­por­tant,” he smiled. “I have a lot of re­spect for all peo­ple work­ing for Southamp­ton. I’m sure they will have a good sea­son,” said the French­man.

“It’s fan­tas­tic,” he added of Maguire’s strike. “He took the space, he had enough en­ergy. It’s per­fect and per­fect in the ex­tra time. We won this game with our men­tal­ity, char­ac­ter, per­son­al­ity. The level of this Premier League is crazy so it’s im­por­tant to keep this men­tal­ity.”

This sea­son, he was ru­moured to have been given two matches to save his job at the East Mid­lands club; he’s won them both, against Wolves and now his for­mer em­ploy­ers. It wasn’t in the same swash­buck­ling style as the 4-1 score­line he achieved here in De­cem­ber but must have been just as sat­is­fy­ing given the cir­cum­stances.

Southamp­ton were the bet­ter side for long spells and went ahead when cap­tain Ryan Ber­trand smashed Pierre-Emile Ho­jb­jerg’s cross into the net from 20 yards on his 150th club ap­pear­ance.

Saints de­served their lead but it lasted just four min­utes be­fore debu­tant Mo­hamed Ely­ounoussi and Cedric Soares failed to clear Kelechi Iheana­cho’s cross and De­marai Gray swept the ball home at the near post.

Still the home side looked the more likely to win it with Danny Ings and Shane Long caus­ing prob­lems with their pace and move­ment. But as Ho­jb­jerg raced at goal he took a shame­ful tum­ble un­der Daniel Amartey’s at­ten­tions and was shown a sec­ond yel­low card by Jonathan Moss. With un­der 15 min­utes re­main­ing, Le­ices­ter were ini­tially slow to seize the ini­tia­tive, but Puel sent on Shinji Okazaki and Rachid Ghez­zal to try to change mat­ters. Puel’s re­ward came via a lon­grange daisy cut­ter by Maguire that de­ceived goal­keeper Alex McCarthy and found its way into the bot­tom cor­ner.

It was a bit­ter end for Mark Hughes who has col­lected only three wins in his 11 games as Saints boss, de­spite hav­ing suc­cess­fully evaded rel­e­ga­tion. “I thought we de­served to win com­fort­ably,” he said. “I thought there were two evenly match teams that went for it but we were bet­ter on the day. I thought it was a real pos­i­tive per­for­mance – one of confi- dence. If we hit those lev­els again then we’ll cer­tainly win more than we lose.”

There were pos­i­tives for Hughes. Ings again showed mo­ments of prom­ise, while Nathan Red­mond too showed up well as did Mario Lem­ina in the cen- tre of mid­field. But for a team who have won only three times in 27 league ap­pear­ances it is a change in men­tal­ity that is re­quired and there was lit­tle evi- dence of that once things started to go against the home side.

Puel will be pleased at the way Iheana­cho led the line in Jamie Vardy’s ab­sence, even if he didn’t quite have the sting of the Eng­land striker. But most pleas­ing of all for the man­ager will be con­tin­u­ing to prove the Southamp­ton board wrong. He has lost none of his matches against them since be­ing shown the door.

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