Leicester goes 7 points clear at top by beating Southampton
LEICESTER, England (AP) Leicester surged seven points clear at the Premier League summit by reeling off a fourth successive 1-0 victory Sunday, with Wes Morgan's first-half bullet header seeing off Southampton.
By netting his first goal of the season, Morgan is a step closer to becoming the first Leicester captain in the club's 132-year history to lift the English topflight trophy next month.
The defender dragged himself from his sick bed to produce the winner in the 38th minute after returning from international duty with Jamaica with a cold.
''I was quite ill yesterday so I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to play,'' Morgan said. ''But I felt a lot better. Obviously I want to play. It's important we all dig in and do our part.''
Exactly a year ago Leicester was in a fight for Premier League survival, stranded seven points from safety before embarking on its astonishing recovery.
Now, after taking full advantage of second-place Tottenham drawing at Liverpool on Saturday, Claudio Ranieri's team has a seven-point lead and only needs 12 points from its final six games to be assured of the title.
There's already a celebratory atmosphere at the modest central England club. The late-season recovery that saved the central England team from relegation improbably carried into this campaign with fans already singing, ''We're gonna win the league.''
Outside the King Power Stadium before the game, some fans snapped up ''champions'' scarves from one entrepreneurial Chelsea supporter cashing in on his team meekly surrendering the title.
Outside the club shop where authorized merchandise is sold, there was free beer and doughnuts on offer from Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to mark the Thai retail tycoon's birthday.
''We sung happy birthday to him in the dressing room before the match and I asked the players to give him a good present, three points,'' Ranieri said.
It's the fans who will be lavishing their owner with gifts if the pre-season 5,000-1 title outsiders become one of the unlikeliest champions in English football history.
Southampton was the Premier League team trying to break up the established order a couple years ago. The south coast club couldn't hold onto its place in the top four though and cashed in on its stars.
But Leicester is lasting the course with a strong work ethic and togetherness encapsulated by the word ''fearless'' that features pitch-side.
Leicester was camped inside Southampton's half for the opening half-hour but couldn't manage a shot on target.
Leicester had a lucky escape in the 32nd minute too when referee Michael Oliver didn't award a penalty to Southampton.
Sadio Mane broke through and rounded goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. His resulting shot was blocked by Danny Simpson's raised right arm but play was allowed to continue.
''It's a penalty and it's a red card,'' Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said. ''I asked (Oliver) to see the clip, but it's not allowed for (referees) to see the clip. Maybe if he stays home with his family he will realize he made a big, big, big mistake.''
Like so often this season, Schmeichel rescued Leicester by tipping away Jose Fonte's powerful strike from 25 yards (meters).
Leicester's breakthrough came in the 38th when Morgan rose above Jordy Clasie to meet Christian Fuchs' cross from the left flank, sending a header beyond goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
''I've been getting a lot of stick because I haven't scored all season,'' Morgan said. ''The boys, to keep them quiet, to shush them up is fantastic.''
Leicester was nearly gifted another goal on the hour by Southampton. Fonte, attempting to clear Danny Drinkwater's deep ball, inadvertently diverted it toward the top of the net before Forster scooped it away.
There was another fine save 10 minutes later from the agile Forster - this time from an opponent. Drinkwater's back-heeled the ball through to Vardy, who cut it back to Simpson in space at the far post. It seemed the defender had an open goal but Forster scrambled across the goal line to smother the shot.
Cementing his credentials to be Joe Hart's England understudy, Forster thwarted Leicester again with five minutes to go, denying Jamie Vardy from a tight angle.
It's now six league games without a goal for Leicester's top scorer. But Vardy has already contributed 19 goals for a team on the verge of the Premier League title.