Maguire hits winner to make Puel’s day
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.