Plucky Saints crank up the pres­sure on Puel

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By John Percy at the King Power Sta­dium

This was an­other chas­ten­ing af­ter­noon in the ten­ure of Claude Puel, six days af­ter the FA Cup em­bar­rass­ment against New­port.

Puel’s first de­feat against the club that sacked him in July 2017 will only turn up the heat on the Le­ices­ter man­ager as Southamp­ton be­came the sec­ond suc­ces­sive strug­gler to win at the King Power Sta­dium.

Shane Long’s goal proved de­ci­sive in se­cur­ing three cru­cial points for Ralph Hasen­huttl and lift Southamp­ton out of the bot­tom three, claim­ing the vic­tory de­spite the dis­missal of de­fender Yan Valery in the first half.

Af­ter an­other de­feat by a team in the lower reaches, it is im­pos­si­ble to shift the feel­ing that Le­ices­ter are on the road to nowhere un­der Puel, whose po­si­tion con­tin­ues to po­larise opin­ion with sup­port­ers.

Le­ices­ter are eighth, yet there is clearly some­thing not work­ing, and ten­sion be­hind the scenes. How can a team beat Manch­ester City and Chelsea but lose to Cardiff and Southamp­ton?

Be­fore kick-off, an el­derly Le­ices­ter sup­porter had a plac­ard with the words “Puel Out” writ­ten on it con­fis­cated by stew­ards, but the boos at the fi­nal whis­tle are threat­en­ing to be­come the sound­track of the sea­son.

Af­ter the FA Cup exit to League Two New­port, when Puel fielded a vir­tual sec­ond team, this was the last thing he needed. “It was a big dis­ap­point­ment and we wanted to see a good re­ac­tion af­ter our cup game,” said Puel.

“The play­ers were ner­vous and, of course, it is frus­trat­ing to lose games against these teams.

“Do I feel un­der pres­sure? It’s not my con­cern. I’m just fo­cused on my team. The fans are like us – dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated.”

Le­ices­ter’s poor home form, with two wins from the past eight games, re­mains a mys­tery and this was an­other mis­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence against a Southamp­ton team given fresh hope by their new man­ager. Hasen­huttl is cer­tainly prov­ing a shrewd ap­point­ment and this could prove a defin­ing mo­ment.

Southamp­ton were ahead af­ter 11 min­utes. It all started with a dread­ful goal kick by Kasper Sch­me­ichel, eas­ily in­ter­cepted by Southamp­ton, and Long was fouled by Nam­palys Mendy in the penalty area. James Ward-Prowse put away the kick, de­spite the best ef­forts of Sch­me­ichel to atone for his er­ror.

It was not un­til the 33rd minute that Le­ices­ter carved out their first op­por­tu­nity when Harry Maguire nod­ded Ben Chilwell’s cross wide.

Jan Bednarek then cleared Wes Mor- gan’s shot off the line as the home team fi­nally be­gan to threaten.

Southamp­ton’s hopes were dam­aged on half-time when Valery was sent off for pulling back Marc Al­brighton. It was the teenager’s sec­ond cau­tion and while that de­ci­sion may have been harsh, he could eas­ily have gone for the first, a crude lunge on Chilwell.

But a pair of mis­takes from Ri­cardo Pereira and Mendy al­lowed Long to break loose in the area be­fore beat­ing Sch­me­ichel from close range. It was Long’s first goal since April.

It is dif­fi­cult to pic­ture Puel giv­ing any player the hairdryer treat­ment but he acted swiftly, send­ing on Har­vey Barnes – who had scored nine goals on loan at West Brom be­fore be­ing re­called last Fri­day – and De­marai Gray at half-time. Le­ices­ter im­proved in­stantly and were back in it af­ter 58 min­utes. Pereira ad­vanced into the area down the right and his cross was turned in by Wil­fred Ndidi from four yards.

The fi­nal 30 min­utes were ex­cru­ci­at­ing for Southamp­ton, with des­per­ate blocks, dogged de­fend­ing and scrappy por­tions of play. Jan­nik Vester­gaard, in par­tic­u­lar, was out­stand­ing as they held out for a po­ten­tially piv­otal win.

Hasen­huttl cel­e­brated wildly in front of the away fans af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle. “I’m re­ally proud of this fan­tas­tic team and the com­mit­ment we showed,” he said. “There was a long time to go af­ter the red card but we were not fright­ened and didn’t give many chances away. The way we de­fended, with the pas­sion and the men­tal­ity, was in­cred­i­ble.”

At Long last: Southamp­ton’s Shane Long ends his goal drought and cel­e­brates (left)

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