Jonny Evans ensured Leicester averted disaster but Brendan Rodgers’s side missed a golden opportunity to establish significant breathing space between them and fifth place after stumbling to a point against 10-man Southampton. Southampton, who had Jannik Vestergaard sent off early on, took the lead from the penalty spot through James Ward-Prowse after Kelechi Iheanacho was penalised for handball but Leicester replied when Evans glanced in an Iheanacho cross.
The game descended into a chaotic conclusion as Leicester huffed and puffed in search of a winner but they could not blow the house down. With four games to play, they have an eight-point advantage over West Ham, one of a clutch of teams chasing the Champions League places.
Ralph Hasenhüttl must have felt a sense of déja vu when, na 10 minute, Vestergaard was given a straight red card. It was this fixture last season, also played under the lights on a Friday, that brought Leicester’s infamous record-breaking 9-0 win but that night it was Ryan Bertrand’s sending-off that proved the catalyst for Southampton’s capitulation.
The agonising thing for Hasenhüttl was that his team should have taken an early lead but Nathan Tella fluffed his lines after being picked out by the selfless Che Adams, who pressured Caglar Soyuncu into trouble. Hasenhüttl despaired as Tella’s right-footed shot bobbled into the grasp of the Leicester captain Kasper Schmeichel. Moments earlier, the Leicester wing-back Luke Thomas expertly intervened with Adams lurking in the box after Southampton countered.
For Southampton, it was the ultimate test of mental strength. Hasenhüttl encouraged his players to retain possession but, unsurprisingly, they were on the back foot from the moment Vestergaard left Vardy crumpled. Vestergaard took a heavy touch in defence and, as the last man, scrambled to prevent Vardy from bearing down on Alex McCarthy, again preferred in the Southampton goal. He won the ball but the follow-through saw him inadvertently pierce Vardy’s left ankle inside the D. The VAR Jonathan Moss took a dim view and the referee Robert Jones’s decision stood. James Maddison sent the resulting free-kick dipping wide of a post.
But Southampton did not quake and Schmeichel was forced into a save when the superb Kyle Walker-Peters outfoxed two blue shirts before spreading the ball wide to Nathan Redmond. Walker-Peters poked the ball through the legs of Youri Tielemans on halfway, jinked inside Wilfred Ndidi and then picked out Redmond, whose powerful shot was repelled. After half an hour, there was a brief stoppage agreed by both teams before kick-off to allow the Leicester defender Wesley Fofana, who is observing Ramadan, to break his fast.
Leicester saw plenty of the ball but struggled to penetrate Southampton despite their advantage and with Rodgers recognising the need to up the ante and ask more questions in the second half, Fofana was withdrawn at the interval and replaced by Ayoze Pérez. Southampton, without Danny Ings owing to a thigh injury sustained in defeat by Tottenham, worked hard but felt aggrieved at key decisions seemingly going against them – Hasenhüttl’s assistant Richard Kitzbichler was given a final warning after remonstrating with the fourth official Andre Marriner – until one went in their favour approaching the hour mark.
Stuart Armstrong blasted at goal after receiving Ward-Prowse’s free-kick and Kelechi Iheanacho raised both arms as the ball flew towards him. Hasenhüttl roared with delight when the referee eventually pointed to the penalty spot and the Southampton captain Ward-Prowse dispatched the subsequent spot-kick with minimal fuss.
Southampton had a lead to cherish, to hold on to but no wonder Leicester’s heads did not drop: Southampton have dropped a league-high 23 points from winning positions this season. Ndidi weaved his way towards the box before finding Iheanacho, whose delicious cross was headed in by Evans. Then came Marc Albrighton in place of Thomas as Leicester hunted a winner.
Albrighton is a reliable performer and his trickery on the flank eluded Redmond before chipping a cross towards the back post, where Vardy rose to connect under pressure from a defender.
“Don’t give up on anything,” urged Schmeichel, and back came Leicester. Maddison slid in Vardy, who twisted inside Walker-Peters before hammering a shot at goal but McCarthy stood firm but the suffering was not over. Vardy nudged the ball into the path of Ndidi on the edge of the 18-yard box but he drilled wide. Hamza Choudhury squealed in disbelief among the substitutes and then a flapping McCarthy almost gifted Leicester a winner with two minutes to play. But Leicester were left to rue what might have been.