Plucky Saints crank up the pressure on Puel
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)