CITY 1 SHEFFIELD UTD 0
Report by Eddie Blount
City duly progressed to the quarter-finals of the F A Cup but a stubborn performance by the Championship side meant that in boxing parlance this match went the distance. Both sides were at less than full strength but City fielded the strongest side they have used in the competition this season, indicating that Puel regards this as a trophy worth winning. Given that it acts as a doorway to Europe most City fans would agree and an attendance of over 28000 confirms that.
At the start the main focus was on the return of the prodigal son. He was greeted with a mixture of cheers and boos, the former seriously outnumbering the latter. His early touches were accompanied by rather isolated sounds of disapproval but these soon dissipated as Mahrez was involved in all the best things City did (and occasionally in some of the worst). It was as if he had never been away and when he was subbed just before the end he was given a standing ovation which he clearly and genuinely appreciated. Make no mistake we will miss him when he’s gone!
Sheffield set up with a bank of four behind a bank of five, often six, and played a high line in an attempt to compress the play into a patch of ground twenty yards either side of halfway. Thus it was difficult to find a way through the congestion and we saw City playing the ball about happily enough but making about as much progress as a set of First World War generals.
Sheffield to their credit ran, tackled and covered tirelessly and their well -organised ‘parked bus’ routine made for a game lacking in the excitement often associated with cup fixtures. Going forward they had little to offer, short on numbers and short on pace and short on ideas, so the City defence was rarely troubled.
This was no doubt ideal as a first runout for returning skipper, Wes Morgan who sauntered through the game without really breaking sweat. The Blades only had a couple of chances, one in each half. On the half-hour mark a cross from the right was headed by one City defender against another, the ball ricocheting fortuitously for Sheffield straight to Stevens whose effort was brilliantly blocked by Maguire when a goal seemed certain.
In the second half their only real chance came oddly when City were ahead and threatening to run up a score. A lovely first-time cross from the left was met first time by Baldock and from a distance it looked goal-bound, only for Schmeichel to save superbly, low to his left.
City on the other hand were continually threatening though rarely dangerously. The main threat came from the Mahrez-Vardy combination though Iheanacho put in a good shift a la Okazaki – without falling over as often. Vardy was slipped in twice in the first half, too wide the first time so the keeper, who played well, was able to block his cross-shot, but Vardy should have done better the second time when his effort met the same fate.
The second half was less evenly contested than the first with City dominant without the killer punch to finish the Blades off. The breakthrough came on 66 minutes when Mahrez received the ball widish right with two defenders in attendance. He went right and so did they. He turned back, they carried on, leaving him in space with the ball on his left foot. He promptly delivered a curving cross beyond the far post where the waiting Vardy was lurking unmarked. A clever, looping header back across the keeper found the far corner of the net, rather to the surprise of the fans who felt the angle was too narrow and expected the striker to head to a team-mate as did keeper Blackman.
For the next five minutes it was all City and we could have had a couple more at least. First Gray, again a mixture of the good and the less so, cut in from the left and delivered a fine shot only for Blackman to make an even better save, then Vardy netted from a Mahrez header across goal only for it to be ruled out for offside. Replays show that Mahrez was as level as makes no difference and the decision could easily have gone the other way. It would have been interesting to see what VAR made of it as it belonged to the same category as the Welsh non-try at Twickenham recently.
1-0 is never game over and thus we suffered the anguish of thinking that whilst never really being in the game United could get lucky at a set piece and force a replay. We should have more faith! One more win and we’re at Wembley.
City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Mahrez (James 90), Ndidi, Iborra, Gray, Iheanacho, Vardy (Albrighton 84)
Sheffield Utd: Blackman, Basham, Wright (Evans 76), O.Connell, Baldock, Lafferty, Carruthers (Duffy 76), Lundstram, Stevens, Wilson (Brooks 46), Donaldson
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