Graham Hiley reports from Saints' midweek run-in with Leicester...

SAINTS out-Foxed Leicester, beating them at their own game to grind out a hard-fought but very significant victory.

The crafty Foxes have built this season's success on patient approach play, efficient passing, solid defence and economy of finishing.

And Saints matched them in every department before scoring a late winner - ironically from a set-piece, one of Leicester's own major strengths.

Even on television replays it was not conclusive whether Dan Petrescu had got the faintest of touches with his head to a deliciously swinging free-kick from Wayne Bridge 12 minutes from time.

It looked to have gone straight in - although I have to declare an interest having backed Bridge at 25-1!

Whatever, he claimed it and it was made all the sweeter for the patience needed to achieve a breakthrough which further emphasised the steady and sure progress they are making.

It was not much of a spectacle for the fans, at least in terms of rip-roaring end-to-end action.

As might have been expected in a contest between two managers who are close friends and former colleagues, it turned into something of a cat and mouse tactical battle.

Glenn Hoddle and Peter Taylor know each other's thinking inside out, but it was the Saints boss who came away smiling after a contest which was intriguing rather than exciting.

At times it was more like a game of chess than anything else, as both sides carefully manoeuvred, probing patiently for the one opening which always looked likely to bring victory.

There were never going to be many chances, making it vital to take those which did come along.

And at half-time it looked as though Saints might regret failing to hit the target with relatively free headers from Dean Richards and Chris Marsden.

In addition, James Beattie had a looping header tipped over and Dan Petrescu just failed to connect as he slid on to Beattie's nod back.

They were all good chances, especially in the context of this ultra-tight game.

After the break space was even more at a premium as the Foxes closed down the few gaps they had left, forcing Saints to shoot from long range.

They also threatened to come out of their shell a little more, albeit without ever exerting any real pressure.

Leicester swamped the midfield with Robbie Savage snapping fiercely against the boos from those who remembered how he got Dean Richards sent off here at the tail-end of last season.

And Junior Lewis, on a three-month loan from Gillingham, slotted in seamlessly on his Premiership debut.

With an extra body in midfield, the visitors always seemed to have a man over, while the Southampton four had to work hard to stem their flow.

Chris Marsden led the way there with a typically Terrier-like performance but the numerical disadvantage meant Bridge or Petrescu were often sucked inside costing the team width.

Saints rarely got round or behind Leicester as they stuck to their game plan of keeping it tight and biding their time.

Marian Pahars was again forced to drop deep to help out, reducing his attacking threat to the obvious frustration of the crowd.

But despite the impatience, Hoddle's men stuck steadfastly to the strategy and finally a rare and late Leicester lapse gave them the reward they always believed would come.

Then, just as Leicester do when they get their noses in front, they clung on like a dog to a bone. It was not so much a backs-to-the-wall job as a clinical professional containing job.

There was an extra spring and bite to their game as they closed and hassled in a way which Taylor himself would have admired if he were not so concerned that his side have now taken one point from 15.

Paul Jones, who was called upon to make two good saves, was able to keep a fifth successive league clean sheet at home, the first Saints keeper to do that since 1984.

That made it six wins and a draw from the last seven home games with just one goal conceded and, in terms of points, Saints are now as close to a place in Europe as they are to the relegation zone.

That may be a little far-off - in the league at least - but safety should now be comfortably achieved in the next few weeks.

And, most significantly, Saints have shown they are capable of putting themselves on a similar firm middle order footing as Leicester who have been the role model for them to follow.