Leicester on the brink of promotion after thumping Saints

Abdul Fatawu scores hat-trick against Southampton

Abdul Fatawu’s hat-trick helped Leicester City take a giant step towards an immediate Premier League return as they ruthlessly ended Southampton’s realistic hopes of automatic promotion.

The Foxes need to win just one of their remaining two matches against Preston or Blackburn to go up, but their place in the top-flight could also be sealed as early as Friday if Leeds lose at QPR.

A cool low finish from Fatawu gave the hosts a deserved first-half lead against a Saints side that struggled to deal with the Foxes’ press and purpose before the break.

Southampton improved vastly immediately after half-time but they were overawed by the clinical Foxes, who doubled their lead through Wilfred Ndidi’s powerful header.

A stunning second from Fatawu followed, then the winger set Jamie Vardy up for his 18th of the season before the former England striker provided the assist for the Ghana international to complete his treble.

The victory moves Leicester four points clear at the summit and keeps them on track to amass 100 points.

While defeat leaves fourth-placed Saints mathematically capable of finishing the season equal on points with second-placed Leeds – who have hugely superior goal difference – a Whites draw against QPR on Friday or an Ipswich win at Hull on Saturday would be enough to consign the south coast club to the play-offs.

Fatawu has Foxes fans in raptures

Southampton’s surprise defeat by Cardiff on Saturday, in a game Saints dominated completely at times, came as a major blow after three successive home wins had them among the four-way battle for automatic promotion.

With Stuart Armstrong also leaving that game on a stretcher, and unlikely to play for Saints again this season, the cost of that loss was high.

The absence of the Scotland international forced one of three changes, while the Foxes made two themselves with Ricardo Pereira and James Justin coming into the backline.

After 25 minutes of relentless pressure, a threaded pass from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall unpicked Saints’ resistance and allowed Fatawu to get in behind Kyle Walker-Peters. The 20-year-old then beat goalkeeper Alex McCarthy with a composed side-footed finish into the bottom corner.

As Fatawu wheeled away and performed a backflip in celebration, Saints reacted angrily as the flag stayed down for offside, and they also felt Wout Faes had escaped punishment for a tackle on Che Adams that won back possession and started the goalscoring move.

It was not until the second half that the Saints put Leicester under any meaningful pressure, with Russell Martin’s side emerging from the break with a sense of urgency and tempo in their play that was previously lacking.

Even then, they could not break Leicester down and finished the game without registering a shot on target.

Ndidi’s header to double Leicester’s advantage triggered a merciless final 30 minutes that had Foxes fans in the stands at the King Power Stadium in ecstasy.

Fatawu’s curled finish from outside the box to make it three was the pick of the goals, and his pass to find Vardy soon after was the pick of the assists before the 37-year-old returned the favour at the end of a fast flowing counterattack to make it 5-0.

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