Wes Morgan strikes as Leicester beat Saints to go seven clear in title fight
LEICESTER, England -- Three points on Leicester 1-0 Southampton, as Claudio Ranieri's unlikely title challengers moved seven points clear at the top.
1. Leicester fairy tale continues
How are Leicester City doing this? The same way that every distance runner does it. Ignore the pain in your legs that slows you, ignore the voice in your head that urges you to quit. Put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.
A fourth 1-0 victory in a row, with a starting XI that remained unchanged for a fourth game in a row, has put Ranieri's team seven points clear with just six games left. They can now afford to lose twice and still seal the title with four wins.
This was a triumph of willpower more than it was a triumph of football. Southampton were a good match for Leicester. They piled on pressure before and after Wes Morgan's winning goal, but they could not break the spirit of the home team, nor their supporters, who turned their anxiety into raw volume as the game reached its final, nerve-shattering stages.
Leicester are tiring, that much is clear. There were sections of this game when the gaps between the wingers and the full-backs became gulfs, and Southampton threatened to take advantage. But they refused to fall back into their own half. They never stopped looking for ways to make chances.
There is a mood at this club that isn't matched anywhere else in the nation. Leading the way has long ceased to be a novelty. They know they are top because they have been the best in the country. They know they can stay at the top if they keep replicating the work that has taken them this far. And they are united.
There are few clubs in the Premier League where the supporters would willingly pay for a plane to trail a happy birthday message to the chairman. There are certainly several where the fans would pay for a plane to take the chairman away. But Leicester City is a very different football club.
Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's birthday was marked with the airborne banner, a giant flag and a standing ovation for him, with a beer and doughnut for every fan in attendance. If Leicester go on to win the title, expect the love-in to intensify further.
2. Captain Morgan and the unsung heroes
When Sunday's match-winner Morgan signed for Leicester in 2012, no-one could ever have guessed that he was taking his first step on a road that could yet end with him lifting the Premier League trophy above his head.
Seriously. No-one. Morgan was a popular man at Nottingham Forest, he captained the team and left on good terms, but he certainly had his wobbly moments. Now he is imperious. And while other Leicester players may hog the limelight, it's difficult to imagine the team performing with such confidence and determination in his absence.
That said, you could make the same observation about a number of these players. Robert Huth has been indomitable, Christian Fuchs a revelation. It's proof, once again, that while football is obsessed with the cult of the superstar individual, the team is always more important.
3. Saints threaten but slip away
With a chance to mount a challenge on a fourth place finish, Southampton came with a plan. But it was a pretend plan, a red and white striped herring. The withdrawn 5-4-1 they opened with was dispensed after 10 minutes, with Leicester tempted into attacking the game on the front foot.
Quietly, Ronald Koeman switched to a more positive approach. Sadio Mane and Steve Davis fizzed around behind Graziano Pelle while Jordy Clasie and Victor Wanyama went toe-to-toe with N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. Leicester, happy to hurl themselves down the flanks at their guests in the opening exchanges, found themselves forced back. They didn't like it. At one point, Southampton had six men behind Leicester's midfield, a demonstration of intent that convinced the Foxes to curb their enthusiastic counter-attacks.
Midway through the first half, the Saints took control. Mane turned Drinkwater inside out to start a move that ended only with a corner. Pelle headed over four minutes later from a Cedric Soares cross.
And then, on 32 minutes, the chance that could have changed the game. Mane broke again, sprinting in on goal with only Danny Simpson in pursuit. Kasper Schmeichel advanced to the edge of the box and did his best to tempt an early shot, but Mane simply zipped around him. Simpson, however, hadn't stopped running. When the shot came, it struck him in the forearm as he ran into the line of fire. From close range, with his arms in an entirely natural position, it was unlikely that referee Michael Oliver could award a penalty. The Southampton supporters, quite understandably, begged to differ.
More pressure was piled on Schmiechel's goal. His fine fingertip save prevented Jose Fonte from crashing home a spectacular opener. Clasie had another crack moments later, driving his effort over the bar. And then Leicester broke. Fuchs, a free transfer in the summer, whipped a delicious cross into the box and captain Morgan deftly nodded his header home.
Southampton changed shape again in the second half, sacrificing Matt Targett for Dusan Tadic and shifting to a 4-2-3-1. They survived an early scare when Victor Wanyama was only booked for wiping out a goal-bound Jamie Vardy straight from kick off, but they took control of the second half. Leicester were tiring. Gaps were opening up, particularly on the flanks. But they didn't give up.
Forster spared Fonte's blushes with a superb save to deny what would have been a memorable own goal. Substitute Leonardo Ulloa linked up well with Vardy, a backheel from Drinkwater put the England striker in and he cut the ball back across the 6-yard box. But the onrushing Simpson could only strike the ball straight into Forster.
Fresh legs were required. With 12 minutes to go, Ranieri withdrew Mahrez and replaced him with the young, dynamic Demarai Gray. It was enough to give Southampton problems, to make them react to a threat. And slowly -- glacially slowly -- the time ebbed away.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.