By Sonia Twigg, PA
Carlos Alcaraz’s first-half goal handed Southampton a lifeline as they secured a crucial three points in a 1-0 win over fellow relegation battlers Leicester.
The Saints had gone into the game winless in eight Premier League home games, a run of matches stretching all the way back to the visit of Chelsea to St Mary’s in August.
However, January signing Alcaraz’s second goal in as many starts ended that run and lessened the significance of James Ward-Prowse’s earlier failure to convert a penalty.
Saints boss Ruben Selles made changes and his gamble, including a rare start for Theo Walcott, paid off as they moved off the foot of the table, albeit on goal difference. It also provided a welcome lift after the shock midweek FA Cup defeat to League Two Grimsby.
Leicester were left to rue a number of missed chances, with defeat leaving them just three points above the relegation zone.
Walcott, named in the starting line-up for the first time since before the World Cup, had a half-chance early on after being picked out by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but his final effort lacked power.
Leicester had a half-chance of their own in the 20th minute as Kelechi Iheanacho got on the end of a Harvey Barnes free-kick but he was unable to direct the header goalwards.
The majority of the first half had been largely devoid of quality and chances but Southampton received a lifeline in the 30th minute when referee Robert Jones pointed to the penalty spot after Walcott’s cross hit Timothy Castagne’s hand.
However, Ward-Prowse had his spot-kick saved by Danny Ward, who guessed the right way. The midfielder, known for his free-kick prowess, has missed both penalties he has taken this season for the Hampshire club.
In the 35th minute however Southampton found the breakthrough, when Che Adams beat the offside trap to pick out Alcaraz and he slotted the ball past Ward.
There was a lengthy VAR check for offside, but the goal was allowed to stand.
Alcaraz also appeared to injury himself in the celebratory slide, but after receiving some treatment was able to continue, although he did not last beyond the 50th minute.
Iheanacho had another headed opportunity fall to him after being picked out at the far post, but he could only guide the ball wide again.
Brendan Rodgers’ men looked to drag themselves back into the game, dominating possession and chances. Another opportunity fell to Iheanacho, who took a touch outside the area before firing over.
The visitors had another opening with almost the final touch of the game, with defender Harry Souttar beating goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu – only to nod the ball over the bar.