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The Southampton F.C. will not close the gap on Chelsea for the Premier League top spot this week, but taking their fifth win in a row against Leicester City means that they are keeping up with the chase and not losing ground. The Saints, in front of an energized home crowd at St. Mary’s, continued to do what nobody thought possible when this year’s campaign began. After last season, expectations were low when the season began. Even now, the pundits are split in their opinions about whether or not they can maintain this level of success, but manager Ronald Koeman and his club are not showing any signs of doubt. Though not necessarily showing dominant form yet, there have been flashes of brilliance, and that has been enough to keep them four points behind the leader at the top of the table.
Southampton kept up pressure on Leicester City for the entire first half, but did not manage to get past their defense. While a largely one-sided affair, the Foxes managed to stymie every attempt, leaving a scoreless tie at the half, raising their hopes that they would be able to hand the Southampton squad a loss and block their chances of keeping pace in their chase of Chelsea and the league lead. By a third of the way through the second half, however, it appeared that the wind had changed direction. Sadio Mane put it in the back of the net not long after the start of the second half, but it was called back for offsides. After that, the tide kept rolling. Though the Saints did not manage to capitalize, a run of several set pieces one after the other highlighted the weaknesses in the Leicester defense. The missing piece for the Southampton offense, it appeared, was the substitution in of Shane Long. After a scoring drought of several games saw him cut from the starting squad on Saturday, he was keen to prove that he still had something to show. He managed to score two times within a couple of minutes, giving the Saints the lead that they never relinquished.
The Foxes did have one solid scoring chance to get back into the match Chris Wood had a breakaway run on goal, but he squandered it, just missing his shot. There were few good opportunities after that point. Leicester put up a decent fight, but were outmatched on the day. The Southampton squad kept their streak alive as well as their hopes of chasing down Chelsea in the standings. While there are still plenty of doubters who find it hard to believe that the Saints will be able to keep up the pace and hold onto their position in the standings. The chance for a Champions League spot looms large as inspiration for them to do just that, however. With the other perennial heavy hitters running into struggles this season, it does not appear as much of a stretch as it did at the beginning of the campaign. Slowly and steadily, Southampton is changing expectations.
Commentary By Jim Malone