Wes Morgan, the indomitable captain who has led Leicester City’s remarkable title challenge, edged Claudio Ranieri’s team to within 12 points of the championship by scoring his first goal of the season to secure victory against Southampton.
Morgan, the former Nottingham Forest defender, has been one of the many stories of Leicester’s season – a journeyman centre-half now enjoying the most incredible chapter in a previously unheralded career.
And his first-half goal, which settled yet another 1-0 win, moved Leicester seven points clear at the top to suggest it is now a matter of when, rather than if, they become the most unlikely champions in English football history.
There are various stages of tension during a Premier League title race, but none quite so nerve-shredding as the run-in following the final international break of the campaign.
From this point on, it is all about negotiating the final furlong without distractions and that is when the anxiety begins to set in. Quite simply, there is too much time to think about points dropped, the fixtures of close rivals and when, or if, the title will be won.
But there has been a refreshing absence of such tension at the King Power Stadium, even when Ranieri’s team has struggled to get over the line against the likes of Newcastle United and Norwich City.
They did so on both occasions, emerging with narrow 1-0 victories each time, and that fighting spirit has clearly given the supporters the belief and faith that all will work out well in the end.
But the threat of complacency is also a dangerous one and the sight of ‘Leicester City – Champions 2015-16’ scarves being sold outside the stadium hinted at the naivety that surrounds the club.
That naivety may ultimately carry Leicester to the title, with it currently acting like a comfort blanket when most other supporters would be tied up in knots by the fear of failure, but there is still a job to be done and Southampton made that abundantly clear during a hard-fought first-half.
Ronald Koeman’s team retain ambitions of Europa League qualification and Ranieri warned of their capabilities in his programme notes, citing Southampton’s fightback from 2-0 down to win against Liverpool last time out as evidence of their threat.
But Southanmpton initially set out to frustrate, at times defending with eleven men behind the ball, but Leicester did not allow themselves to become affected by the pressure.
The early chances all fell to Southampton, though, with Graziano Pelle heading over at the near post on 29 minutes before Danny Simpson was fortunate not to concede a penalty when blocking Sadio Mane’s goalbound effort with his right arm.
Mane had rounded goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after breaking clear, but Simpson’s defiant block epitomised the never-say-die spirit of Ranieri’s team as they continued to resist Southampton pressure with Jose Fonte forcing a save from Schmeichel and Jordy Clasie shooting narrowly over prior to Morgan’s opener.
It was a goal of beautiful simplicity, but one which could yet carry so much significance.
Good work in midfield by Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante saw the ball drop to Christian Fuchs on the left and the full-back whipped in a penetrating cross which found Morgan, being marked by the diminutive Clasie, on the penalty spot.
Morgan, an inspirational captain for Leicester this season, outmuscled the Dutch midfielder to send a header past goalkeeper Fraser Forster. It was his first goal of the campaign, so perfectly timed.
Having won four of their previous five games with a 1-0 margin, Leicester were hardly unfamiliar territory as they set about holding on to their lead in the second-half.
But rather than sit back and defend, they went for the kill, attempting to score the second which would see off Southampton’s attempt to claw themselves back into the game.
But Forster proved a stubborn opponent in the Southampton goal, with the England goalkeeper clawing away a sliced clearance by Fonte on 61 minutes before scrambling across his line to keep out Danny Simpson’s six-yard effort ten minutes later. Jamie Vardy was also denied five minutes from the end.
With Mane looking lively and dangerous for Southampton, Forster’s saves kept Koeman’s team alive, but Leicester held on once again to edge closer to the title.
Four more victories and the Premier League trophy will be theirs. The celebrations at the final whistle suggested that they are preparing to hoist it high.
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