JAMES MADDISON showed Leicester – and football – the way.
James Maddison scored as Leicester moved into second with a 2-0 win against SouthamptonCredit: Getty Images – Getty
The ace marked his goal with a socially-distanced celebrationCredit: PA:Press Association
And his sensible, socially-distanced celebration set a much-needed good example on a day when his fellow scorers had failed to heed pleas to stick to Covid-19 rules.
Injury stopped him making a flying start to the season and he has slipped down the international pecking order behind the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount.
There was plenty of humour in the way he shooed away his team-mates as they closed in to congratulate him and in the pretend high-fives and handshakes he offered.
But there was also intelligence of a kind that Mount, to take one example, had not shown.
England captain Harry Kane, who had urged his fellow players to take on board warnings from the Premier League and Government, will surely have appreciated Maddison’s maturity.
Because with the rest of Britain enduring the worst of the pandemic, football needs to be seen to be doing the right thing.
Reality TV star Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester team-mate Jamie, is not the only one skating on thin ice at the moment.
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Harvey Barnes was also on target for LeicesterCredit: PA:Press Association
Barnes also celebrated in unique fashionCredit: Reuters
It was far from smooth going for the Foxes for much of a compelling game.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s injury and Covid-hit Saints were impressive again in their first match since beating Liverpool.
But without Danny Ings, only just back from self-isolation, they lacked the cutting edge up front to turn their good approach work into goals.
And with his bench packed with youngsters, Hasenhuttl did not quite have the resources to claim the point they arguably deserved.
Harvey Barnes grabbed a late second and if Manchester United don’t beat Liverpool on Sunday, Leicester will go top if they can beat Chelsea at the King Power on Tuesday night.
Maddison’s goal was very harsh on Southampton, who were much the better side in the first half.
From the start everything about the visitors’ game was sharper: passing, movement, tackling and reaction to second balls.
Maddison fired in Leicester’s opener from a very tight angleCredit: Ian Hodgson – Daily Mail
The midfielder is playing his way back into Gareth Southgate’s England plansCredit: AFP
Leicester were having next to no attacking possession and their frustration was apparent in the cynical – and unnecessary – body check on Walcott that earned Wesley Fofana a yellow card as early as the 15th minute.
Soon afterwards, Che Adams could have given the Saints the lead, but tried to cut the ball back to Walcott and Youri Tielemans intercepted.
Almost immediately the visitors were given a warning about what might happen if they lost focus.
Leicester pounced on a stray pass and Vardy’s dummy teed up Barnes, whose shot was beaten away by Saints ‘keeper Alex McCarthy.
But Southampton were still on top and this time Adams forced a save out of Schmeichel, who was making his 400th appearance for the Foxes.
While Walcott continued to cause problems and force Leicester into some desperate defending, at the other end, Vardy was barely getting a kick.
When forced to do some defensive work in his own half, the ex-Engand striker smacked the ball into the stand in apparent fury at how things were going.
Barnes showed no mercy when he wrapped up the result at the deathCredit: AFP
Leicester have every reason to smile after going one point behind leaders Man UtdCredit: Reuters
And when a chance finally came his way, he swung and missed at a Marc Albrighton cross.
But then all Saints’ good work was undone. Centre back Jack Stephens allowed Maddison to roll him from a Youri Tielemans pass and the Leicester man smashed a shot high past McCarthy at his near post.
Saints almost hit back when James Ward-Prowse played in Ryan Bertrand but Schmeichel made another sharp stop.
Within a minute of the restart, the Dane kept out a Will Smallbone effort. But the Saints should then have been reduced to 10 men when Ibrahima Diallo, already booked, pulled back Maddison.
It was a feisty game, with tackles flying in and referee Stuart Attwell showing little consistency in what he let go and what he punished.
With that perhaps in mind, Rodgers replaced Fofana with Caglar Soyuncu.
As a more even second half unfolded, Maddison could have given his halo another polish by playing in Vardy after a Jan Bednarek error, but his pass drove the striker a little too wide.
Brendan Rodgers knows his side could go top on Tuesday depending on resultsCredit: Reuters
Ralph Hasenhuttl had to make do with an injury and Covid-hit squad on SaturdayCredit: AFP
Vardy should have scored with a free header from a Barnes cross.
The miss looked costly when Armstrong hit the bar at the other end and Evans bundled over Saints sub Shane Long as he tried to force in the follow-up.
But the Irishman had been offside from the initial shot and it stayed at 1-0.
It was almost game over when Barnes steered an effort goalwards but Bednarek cleared off the line. McCarthy did his own England claims no harm by denying Vardy brilliantly in the dying minutes.
The same could be said of Barnes, who ran on to Tielemans’ pass to kill off the game at last, deep into five minutes of stoppage time.
Barnes also celebrated with imaginary high fives and handshakes.
But in front of Southgate and the nation, it was Maddison who made the decisive impression.