From implosion to verge of promotion: Leicester City are almost back

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates with Abdul Fatawu after scoring to make it 4-0 against Southampton
Jamie Vardy celebrates with Abdul Fatawu after making it 4-0 to Leicester - Getty Images

After seemingly being on the brink of a season implosion just 11 days ago, Leicester City are now tantalisingly close to a Premier League return.

Enzo Maresca needs just one more win, or a Leeds United defeat, to secure automatic promotion from the Championship at the first attempt.

“Straight back up Leicester City, playing football the Enzo way” chanted the jubilant home fans in the second half, after a resounding victory at the King Power Stadium.

It feels like a trick of the imagination that on April 12, at Plymouth Argyle, Leicester suffered their sixth defeat in 10 matches to crank up fears of a late collapse.

Yet this was emphatic, with a hat-trick from Abdul Fatawu, and promotion appears inevitable. They will be promoted on Friday night if Leeds lose at Queens Park Rangers.

Maresca said: “It’s been a long season and now we know with one win we’re promoted. We are looking to get promoted and if we finish first or second it doesn’t matter.

“I don’t think that was our best performance of the season but it was a good feeling at the end.”

While Leicester are dreaming of lifting the title, Southampton’s lingering hopes of finishing in the top two are all but over after a dreadful performance which sentences them to the play-offs.

Southampton needed a win to continue challenging for automatic promotion but were abysmal, cranking up the pressure on manager Russell Martin. They could yet play a significant part in the regular season, as they play Leeds away on the final day, but this was a chastening experience. Southampton did not manage a shot on target all evening.

Martin said: “It’s not my job to make the players feel good about tonight, they need to feel the same pain and hurt that I’m feeling.

“The team that plays from now will be one that fights for their team-mates. I didn’t like what I saw from my team at 2-0 down one bit. It surprised me and I told them I didn’t like it. The fans deserved better and we need to give them a performance on Saturday against Stoke.”

Maresca has always insisted this absorbing promotion race would go to the wire.

Despite their recent wobble, their consistency has been admirable and some of the football here was outstanding.

With Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha watching on from the directors’ box, this was their 30th win from 44 matches. There are uncertain times ahead, after the club was charged with breaching financial rules by the Premier League, but that is one to worry about later. Promotion has always felt like a priority.

Leicester started the night on 91 points and in the previous six seasons that total would have already been enough to secure a top-two finish. They pressurised the Southampton goal from the start, with Jamie Vardy, their 37-year-old captain, producing one of those classic pest-like performances.

Leicester’s opening goal came after 25 minutes and was wonderfully worked, a fine example of ‘Enzo-Ball’.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was freed up 40 yards from goal and threaded through a fine pass to Fatawu, who swept the ball past Alex McCarthy and into the corner.

Leicester moved up the gears in the second half, extending their lead in the 62nd minute.

Stephy Mavididi floated over a cross from the left and Wilfred Ndidi was given too much space to head the ball home.

Fatawu, a loan signing from Sporting, added a third goal with a wonderful curling effort to spark a mass exodus of Southampton supporters.

Vardy then pounced from close range before Fatawu provided the gloss with his treble.

“We want nine” chanted the Leicester fans, in reference to their Premier League win at Southampton in October 2019, but this will have done nicely.