LONDON: Party festivities took over at Leicester City as the Premier leaders defeated Southampton 1:0 to extend their lead to an almost intimidating seven points with six games remaining.
Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha celebrated his birthday by offering each fan who attended the game a bottle of beer and a doughnut to toast a remarkable year and the fans responded by unfurling a huge blue and white banner wishing him a happy birthday.
The fans also started singing: “We’re going to win the league,” after spending months singing – with typical English ironic humour – “We’re staying up.”
Certainly it was a happy birthday for the chairman and his son Aiyawatt, the executive vice-chairman who bought the club in 2010. Before he flew back to Thailand he was able to celebrate three more crucial points secured by a single first-half goal from defender Wes Morgan. Remarkably, Leicester are already 25 points ahead of outgoing champions Chelsea.
New internationals N’Golo Kante (France) and Danny Drinkwate (England) outran Southampton in midfield in the first half but Saints grew stronger as the second half progressed. Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri needed all his three substitutes.
Meanwhile Morgan and Robert Huth remained a solid, impenetrable barrier in the centre of defence as Leicester’s fans maintained the barrage of noise with the plastic clappers which cost the club £11,000 every game.
Huth’s ability to block everything included an incident in the 73rd minute when Saints’ striker Charlie Austin fired a shot against one of Huth’s hands. Austin demanded a penalty but referee Michael Oliver ruled that the handball was inadvertent.
Later Saints’ manager Ronald Koeman protested angrily that his team should have been awarded penalties for both that incident and another handball claim against Danny Simpson.
Christian Fuchs collected a yellow card for time-wasting as a weary Leicester team finally ran down the clock, including an agonising five minutes of stoppage time.
** Anthony Martial struck Manchester United’s 1,000th Premier League goal at Old Trafford to beat an Everton side who were short of ideas, apart from hitting the ball long for the outnumbered Romelu Lukaku. United thus remained within one point of fourth-placed Manchester City on a day which saw the formal naming of the South Stand after director and old hero Sir Bobby Charlton.