IT IS a rare event for a Premiership referee to receive praise from one manager but to get plaudits from two is virtually unprecedented. And it is an even more remarkable occurrence when the managers in question are Southampton's Dave Jones and Leicester's Martin O'Neill, who have both developed blasting the man in black into a fine art in the heat of the post-match press conference.
Referee Dermot Gallagher has long been a favourite with players (his slowness on the draw with yellow and red cards earned him a one match suspension last season) and he was arguably the best thing on the pitch on Saturday, in what was a drab, sterile match for long periods.
Two events were singled out by O'Neill for praise. The first showed a respect for players involved in hard, physical situations when a minor tussle between Claus Lundekvam and Emile Heskey ended with the striker being flipped over the defender's shoulder. It looked a lot worse than it was and Gallagher had the good sense to tick both players off when other referees might have shown yellow or even red cards.
The second led directly to Leicester's first goal after a period of intense pressure. Mark Hughes, who looked thoroughly at sea with his role as a holding midfielder, committed a bad foul on the edge of the area and Gallagher waved play on even though there was no clear immediate advantage. The problem for Saint's defence was that they all stood stock-still waiting for the whistle to blow. It never happened and Heskey slipped in behind them to stab the ball home from six yards. Gallagher went on to book Hughes after he had awarded the goal.
"I went into the referee to congratulate him after the game," enthused O'Neill. "It was excellent refereeing to allow the play to go on. He did brilliantly." And Jones was only marginally less effusive. "I thought the referee handled things well," he said. "The good referees let the game flow. He played advantage to them and we just switched off."
Worse was to follow for Saints when they committed another elementary error to allow Leicester to double their lead two minutes later. This time they failed to deal with the simple floated cross from Steve Guppy and Steve Walsh rose unmarked at the far post to head home.
Saints are now bottom of the Premiership again and look desperately in need of new personnel. They struggled to compete effectively anywhere on the pitch and this was despite Leicester fielding a side so threadbare through injury that Matt Elliott, the Scottish international centre-back, was coerced into striking duties for the second match in succession.
Elliott's sometimes clumsy first touch suggests that he is no Dion Dublin in waiting, but his face will not be as red as Matt Le Tissier's. The Saints' striker missed an open goal from close range and there was no way back for Southampton after that.
Goals: Heskey (61) 1-0; Walsh (63) 2-0.
Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Walsh (Taggart, 84), Ullathorne, Sinclair; Guppy, Izzet, Zagorakis (Savage, 79), Impey; Elliott, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Parker, Fenton.
Southampton (4-4-2): Jones; Benali, Lundekvam, Dodd, Hiley; Ripley (Beattie 72); Palmer, Hughes (Kachloul, 72), Oakley; Le Tissier, Ostenstad. Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Bridge, Monk.
Booking: Southampton Hughes.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Man of the match: Lennon.
Attendance: 18,423.Reuse content