Kelechi Iheanacho’s calm second-half finish sent Leicester City into the Emirates FA Cup Final as the Foxes edged past Southampton 1-0 at Wembley.
A tight first half was bossed by Leicester without a goal to show for it but that changed early in the second when Iheanacho notched his fourth goal of the competition.
While Southampton grew into the contest it was Brendan Rodgers’ side who went closest to adding more goals and kept their opponents at arm’s length in front of 4,000 fans at Wembley, allowed in as part of the government’s test scheme to get supporters back into grounds.
The four-time runners-up will bid for a first ever Emirates FA Cup triumph when they face Chelsea in the showpiece final, their first in the FA Cup for 52 years, at the Home of Football on May 15.
The contest started at a lightning pace with Leicester, who have made the final on four separate occasions but never won it, keen to stamp their authority as they bid to keep their quest for a first ever FA Cup trophy going.
It was Ayoze Perez who had the game’s first chance, bending a shot from just outside the box over the bar.
Saints dominated possession of the ball in a cagey start to the match, but could not take it into any threatening areas however they did make their first real venture deep into Leicester’s half when a lively cross from Nathan Redmond zipped across the penalty area unattended.
Rodgers’ side pressed and harried their opponents, meaning Southampton could not build any real rhythm while the Foxes were just finding theirs – Perez combining with Jamie Vardy in a fluid move which ended with the Spaniard’s cross just evading Iheanacho at the back post.
And with 12 minutes to go in the first half Leicester had another chance to open the scoring, with Youri Tielemans carving the Saints defence open with a brilliant ball which put Vardy through to take on goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who he chipped the ball over but just missed the target.
Yet another chance went abegging late in the half when the impressive Tielemans’ corner was headed on target by Vardy but cleared over the bar by two Saints defenders amid a scramble inside the box.
It took 48 minutes for Southampton to register their first shot, with Jannik Vestergaard’s header flying well over but not long after the Foxes took the lead.
With Vardy released to use his searing pace on the left wing, Iheanacho was lurking in the box for the subsequent cross and, after mistiming his initial left-footed volley, the in-form Nigerian saw the ball deflected back to him where he then coolly slotted past Forster.
Could that goal spark Southampton into life?
It looked to as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men began to surge forward with far greater intensity and regularity – James Ward-Prowse’s corner pushed away by Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel before Ibrahima Diallo’s powerful volley curled just wide of the post.
Leicester continued to threaten still though, and substitute James Maddison could have put the game to bed but blazed his effort from outside the box over the bar inside the last 15 minutes.
Another shot from outside the box, again from Maddison swerved just wide of the post and a Ward-Prowse free-kick in the fourth minute of added time looked a chance for late drama but it came to nothing as Leicester reached their fifth FA Cup final and their first since 1969.
Leicester City match-winner Kelechi Iheanacho said: “We did it together, the team. Without the team, we couldn’t do it, it’s not a one-man show.
“I’m happy the way we together, we stuck together at the end and the goal came and I was in the right place at the right time. We’re in the final now so we’re very happy.
“The partnership between me and Jamie [Vardy] is outstanding, he’s got the pace, he’s got everything, he’s a great player so he set up the goal, we’re in the final.
“I think the FA Cup loves me and I love the FA Cup.
“I’ve been unlucky the past few years but it’s working out really well now so I need to keep working hard to go to the next level. It was at the end [hard work] so we’re happy.
“That will be amazing [the final] so I can’t wait for that day but let’s get back now and start work and focus for that.”
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “I think we left everything on the pitch today what was possible for us.
“We had no shots on target, six shots in total. We got a bit unlucky with how we conceded the goal.
“We tried to be aggressive, we tried to keep them away from our goal, we know their qualities. We had a lot of work to do to keep pressure on them.
“In the final third we had one or two good moments where we can get more but this is not enough if you want to win.
“I must say the guys really invested a lot today. We wanted to take the chance, we knew we were the underdog but I’m proud for the effort the guys put in today.”
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers said: “It’s amazing, the club have been waiting a long time to get an FA Cup Final and I think we deserved it.
“I thought we defended very strong, as we’ve seen all season Southampton can score great goals and they’ve got players than can really hurt you.
“But, we didn’t concede any efforts on goal and I thought as the game wore on we looked really bright in our attacking play and maybe should have had more than one goal.
“I’m pleased for everyone, the players first and foremost, it’s a massive achievement, and of course everyone at the club and the supporters.
“It was a tight game, it’s a semi-final. There wasn’t too many chances in yesterday’s game but I thought the players concentration was really really good.
“We could have been better with the ball at times, I thought we were a bit loose at times but as the game developed then our patterns were much better.
“The two of them [Vardy and Iheanacho] are a real threat. Jamie was obviously disappointed he didn’t score in the first half but you’ve seen the threat he has, the movement he has in between the lines and the clever play for the goal.
“He’s [Iheanacho] such a great guy, works so hard, he’s at the top of his game in terms of confidence.
“It’s a competition that means a lot to our supporters and we’ve tried to show it that respect all the way through.”
Leicester City (3-4-1-2): 1 Kasper Schmeichel; 3 Wesley Fofana, 4 Caglar Soyuncu, 6 Jonny Evans; 21 Ricardo Pereira, 25 Wilfred Ndidi, 8 Youri Tielemans, 27 Timothy Castagne; 17 Ayoze Perez; 14 Kelechi Iheanacho, 9 Jamie Vardy
Substitutes: 11 Marc Albrighton for Pereira 60’, 10 James Maddison for Perez 68
Substitutes not used: 12 Danny Ward, 18 Daniel Amartey, 19 Cengiz Under, 20 Hamza Choudhury, 24 Nampalys Mendy, 26 Dennis Praet, 33 Luke Thomas
Goals: Iheanacho 55’
Southampton (4-4-2): 44 Fraser Forster; 2 Kyle Walker-Peters, 33 Jan Bednarek, 4 Jannik Vestergaard, 3 Ryan Bertrand; 12 Moussa Djenepo, 8 James Ward-Prowse, 27 Ibrahima Diallo, 17 Stuart Armstrong; 9 Danny Ings, 11 Nathan Redmond
Substitutes: 10 Che Adams for Redmond 59’, 32 Theo Walcott for Djenepo 73’, 22Mohammed Salisu for Bertrand 85’, 23 Nathan Tella for Walker-Peters 85,
Substitutes not used: 1 Alex McCarthy, 5 Jack Stephens, 22 Mohammed Salisu, 40 Dan Nlundulu, 47 Will Ferry, 64 Alex Jankewitz