So Near And Yet So Far

Leicester City 1 Manchester City 1 (after extra time)  

Leicester City 3 Manchester City 4 on penalties – 19 December 2017

Report by Tish Krokosz

My last report was against the same opposition but in the league match. I had asked for a second-string team to be sent to us for this quarter-final Cup match and Mr. Guardiola duly obliged. City also made several changes from the dour team that lost to Palace on Saturday. I had forgotten what some of them looked like. Although my colleague correspondent, Suffolk Fox, could not sit next to me due to illness, I was surprised by the number of other empty seats around the stadium at the beginning of the match.

Although the Manchester names were different, their style was still the same and the first quarter of the match was made up of direct one touch passes between the opposition players – perhaps they were just getting to know one another. Yet in that time they still managed to have a couple of shots on goal; one was well saved by Hamer and the other, after a mix up between Hamer and Fuchs was blocked on the line by Maguire.

For all the talent that was on show I was surprised that the visitors found it necessary to use crude tactics to stall City attacks with Touré, in particular, being guilty of using his weight and size rather than skill to obstruct our lads. The referee was oblivious to his methods. Indeed, he punished Iheanacho for colliding with Bravo outside their area in a 50-50 tackle and then ignored Touré’s manhandling of the same forward a minute later.

Unfortunately, Iheanacho tried to remonstrate with Madley on this point. Meanwhile, Touré had passed the ball to Gündogan who was able to run half the length of the pitch unhindered and pass the ball to Silva who, even though he had lots of space and was inside the penalty area sent a clinical shot wide of Hamer into the bottom corner of the net. It was what Manchester City deserved in terms of possession and attempts but the lead up to it left a sour taste.

For some reason, the visitors then seemed to be happy to sit on their one goal lead. Or did this just wake City up and make them realise that there was plenty of time to come back and show the league leaders that we too could attack? There were several half-hearted attempts to get beyond the Manchester defence with good runs from Iheanacho and Chilwell.

The away team played a very high line and it was calling out for balls to be played beyond their back four for Vardy to run on to. Yet he was on the bench – why? Most fans sensed that he and Mahrez would be able to make the most against such tactics. It took until the 57th minute for the fans’ wishes to be heard and the crowd was roaring even before any substitutions were made when they saw the two of them preparing to come on. When they did join the game the atmosphere in the stadium went up several gears as everyone felt that pressure would bring City goals.

There appears to be a new buzz word in footballing circles this season – game management. Manchester City were very adept at this. Shirt-pulling on the referee’s blind side, giving away free-kicks in non-dangerous areas, kicking the ball away after a free-kick is awarded, similarly when a throw-in is given – the referee spotted a lot of these but it made for a scrappy period of play in the middle of the second half. He blew his whistle each time but this would slow the game down and suited Manchester’s approach.

The crowd thought that he was too lenient with some of the tackles, especially one on Chilwell which brought the trainer on to tend to bleeding after a Manchester boot had made contact with Ben’s face.

Most of the second half belonged to City with Mahrez, in particular, having more freedom and ability to run into the Manchester City penalty area. He had a couple of shots saved by Bravo and put crosses in for the other forwards to try and score. However, all of City’s attempts were slightly off-target or not powerful enough. Headers from Maguire went wide and it felt that Manchester would be able to hang on. Gray came on for Chilwell in the 72nd minute and was generally quiet until the end of the match.

The visitor’s approach mentioned earlier must have been noted by the referee because the crowd was delighted to hear that there would be 8 minutes of added time after the 90. Manchester would come to regret their approach because towards the end of this added time Shinji Okazaki sent a neat through ball to the left of the penalty area to Gray who carried it into the box and was promptly tripped/nudged/clipped by Walker and awarded a penalty. It must have been a very light touch as most of the fans around me looked surprised but delighted. Vardy promptly dispatched the ball with power past Bravo and we knew it was going to be a long night with extra time.

The next 15 minutes was fairly even between the two teams with Manchester City showing a little more concern than they had during the second half. Touré forced a good save from Hamer after Maguire had committed a foul for which he received a booking. This was just outside the penalty area and was prime territory for a Touré goal. Both teams showed remarkable energy throughout extra time and each had chances that could have brought the winner.

After 120 minutes, we were treated to the “dreaded” penalty shoot-out. Each one was a good shot until Vardy hit the outside of the left-hand post. Manchester had already scored 4 at this point so it fell to Mahrez to equal the score and keep City in sight of a semi-final spot. His shot was hit with force but Bravo went to his left and judged it correctly and saved. We were out and Manchester City continued their journey towards their chairman’s ambition of 4 titles in one season. How greedy can you get?

After the poor performance against Palace, this was a much improved City side that showed effort and intention to get a positive result. It was not a classic in terms of performance and both sides had scrappy periods within the match. It showed that a reserve Manchester City side could still hold us even when we played some of our “stars”. But there were encouraging signs from some of the fringe players, especially Amartey and Dragovic. The latter was substituted by Benalouane in the second half of extra time and was holding his calf as he limped off. We are normally used to seeing Shinji being substituted after 60 minutes or so – it was remarkable that he managed the full 120 although he looked tired at the end. He was often on the receiving end of Touré’s man-handling and had played his part well.

Puel’s choice of players was made with Saturday’s visit of the other Manchester team in mind. With this ridiculously congested timetable of matches around Christmas it was a difficult call to make, but I believe most fans felt that he should have put out a stronger 11 earlier in the game as this would be our best chance of reaching a Wembley final and possibly going into Europe. We will never know who was right.

Leicester City: Hamer, Amartey, Dragovic (Benalouane 111), Maguire, Fuchs, Albrighton (Mahrez 57), Iborra, King, Chilwell (Gray 72), Okazaki, Iheanacho (Vardy 57). Subs not used: Jakupovic, Simpson, Ulloa

Manchester City: Bravo, Danilo, Mangala (Walker 81), Adarabioyo, Zinchenko, Gündogan, Touré, Foden (Dele-Bashiru 90), Diaz (Nmecha 88), Jesus, B. Silva. Subs not used: Ederson, Delph, Sané, Duhaney.

Referee: R. Madley                     Attendance: 31,562

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation