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Leicester City 3 Southampton 2
THE WINNING run had to come to an end at some point – but the manner in which it did was always going to be so important to Saints.
If they were to have got badly turned over then players as well as pundits may have started wondering whether the incredible start was merely just a bit of momentum still left in the tank following the glorious run to promotion last season.
It could have created doubts and a dent in the confidence. However, what actually happened was very different.
Saints could have gone down in such a fashion, at half-time at Leicester it looked like they probably would.
But they showed great character, quality and determination to come right back at the Foxes and finished the game disappointed to lose but still on a high.
Although they had gifted Leicester a lead which eventually proved insurmountable, they absolutely battered them in the second half and only a mixture of great goalkeeping, a few unfortunate moments in the penalty area and the post prevented Saints from getting something.
On another day, if one of those had gone in, you fancied it wouldn’t just have been a point but they would have gone on to win.
Of course, in football they don’t award points for brave performances and so in the cold light of day it may feel little consolation.
But in terms of where Saints are mentally after suffering their first defeat back in the Championship it should not have dented their confidence.
They may reflect on some poor mistakes they made in the first half, both defensively and in general play, and that against the top teams in the Championship you will not get away with it as you might have done in League One.
They can though be very pleased with their first five league games and go into the Championship’s international break both satisfied and optimistic.
Saints looked jaded in the first half, like their exertions so far this season may have got the better of them.
Saints dropped a little deep, didn’t press as we have been used to, just generally weren’t at their sharpest.
They gifted their hosts a two-goal lead. The first came after just three minutes as Jose Fonte only half cut out a through ball down the left.
Saints continued to struggle, giving Leicester numerous free headers in the area that they couldn’t convert.
They did eventually create a chance when Jack Cork sliced Adam Lallana’s chipped through ball in the air but it was 2-0 on 22 minutes as Jeffrey Schlupp was allowed to cut in from the right and square a ball to Richie Wellens.
His first time curling finish as the ball came across him was immaculate but he was under little pressure.
Saints pulled one back six minutes later as Lallana brilliantly danced to the left by-line and cut back a wonderful stabbed cross.
Dan Harding had tracked into the area and buried a near post header from six yards out. After Davis had saved from Paul Konchesky’s free kick and a penalty appeal for a Fonte challenge had been waved away, it looked like Saints would go into the break just a goal down, which would have been a result.
However, deep into first-half stoppage time a right-wing corner came into the Saints box which Rickie Lambert headed into his own net.
It was not quite as straight forward as that though as the Saints man appeared to be quite clearly fouled by Sol Bamba, the giant centre half who was all over the back of Lambert but the referee didn’t give the free kick and it was 3-1 at the break.
Adkins made a switch at half-time with Morgan Schneiderlin coming into midfield and Jack Cork dropping to right back but probably just as importantly Leicester changed tactics.
Having caused Saints such problems with their attacking and pressing 4-4-2 formation, they went to a lone striker in a 4-5-1. The wide men struggled to get up to support, they surrendered possession and allowed the Saints defenders, who had had a tough first 45 minutes, the chance to relax somewhat.
It was a strange decision and one which massively helped Saints and might have cost the Foxes their win.
After Kasper Schmeichel had saved Guly Do Prado’s drilled effort Saints cut the deficit back to one goal on 53 minutes as a left-wing corner got a flick on to the far post where David Connolly was lurking and duly turned home a diving header from a yard out.
From then on it was pretty much just a case of whether Saints would get their leveller and, if so, what would then transpire.
Lallana was chief tormentor, dragging Saints forward time and again. He had a decent penalty shout turned down, saw Matt Mills bravely block a shot and forced Schmeichel into two brilliant saves.
The first came after neat interplay and a cutting through ball from Lambert that the keeper blocked as Lallana opened up his body and aimed for the far corner.
The other was a remarkable point blank range save after Danny Fox’s cross. Connolly also came close with a technically superb far post volley that smashed against the foot of the post and flew back into the arms of Schmeichel.
In the end it just wasn’t to be but in this case the manner of the defeat did leave plenty of room for consolation.