Leicester City 1 Stoke City 1 – 24 February 2018
Report by Tish Krokosz
Rumour has it that City enjoy a bonding session during the week in which they all share plenty of KFC products and thrash out their problems in readiness for the weekend match. No doubt, last week’s chicken problems that affected this well-known culinary outfit also had an effect on City’s play against Stoke. Otherwise, how does one explain the unsatisfactory performance for most of the match. This was one description I heard at half-time; other words included poor, un-connected, second-rate, unconvincing and timid.
Yet, we started the game on the front foot with plenty of confidence, speed, skill and expectation. There were countless corners won, but, as most current fans are aware, these are a waste of time as we do not make the most of these opportunities. With a little luck and more accuracy City could have been two-nil up within ten minutes. For some reason we seemed to switch off after this initial onslaught and decided to pass the ball to the opposition rather than to ourselves. Are we too gentlemanly? It was almost as if the team felt sorry for Stoke for not having enough of the ball and kept passing it to them unnecessarily.
There was the potential there to absolutely hammer a poor Stoke side. Mahrez had plenty of opportunities to run rings round their defence who looked very ragged at the outset. He was on form and created chances for himself and for a forward line that was lacking in manpower. There were some delightful crosses but no-one with the height or power to take advantage of them.
It reminded me of the Morecambe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn in which Eric Morecambe was accused of not playing the music correctly. His answer was that he was playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. City’s play was like this: sometimes great but there was no cohesion and players would not be aware of the next move or could not anticipate a pass that might come their way.
It is rare for City to have so much possession. They did not know how to utilise it. Too often our midfield would knock the ball back to the defence (purely to keep hold of it) rather than create something up front. Vardy playing a lonesome role is ineffective against a four man defence. High crosses are wasted if there is no Slimani or Ulloa to create an opening.
Stoke clearly came for a point and were prepared to fill the defence and midfield and hope for a break after a City mistake. This came just before half-time when Ndidi was robbed of the ball on the touchline by Allen, who was probably the most dominant player on the field. He quickly fed it to Shaqiri who had acres of space to move towards goal and thump a shot past the diving left hand of Schmeichel.
Who was to blame? Ndidi for dithering and not controlling the ball, albeit in a seemingly safe position? The defensive midfield for being absent and giving Shaqiri so much space? Schmeichel for not anticipating the shot earlier? Whatever the answer, the home fans were dissatisfied at half-time. City had the chances early on but did not take them. Our passing was poor and there was a lack of cohesion in the team.
There was hope that Puel would recognise some of these problems and would make some changes after the interval. Unfortunately, it was the same eleven that came out after the break. Yet it was clear that the City players were game to try and rectify the deficit. Two shots early in the second half were blocked by the opposition defence.
But the visitors were almost gifted a ludicrous second goal after 55 minutes. They sent a hopeful ball down the left wing and nobody seemed interested in chasing it. Schmeichel had all the time in the world to saunter out to the right of the penalty area and clear the ball upfield. For some reason he decided to kick it gently to the middle of the pitch where a Stoke player could easily take hold of it and pass it to Shaqiri. Our keeper was stranded out on the right and the Stoke forward had an open goal to aim for. Luckily for City his left-footed shot was rushed and curled away to the right of the post and City (and Schmeichel in particular) were spared any further blushes.
Five minutes later we were treated to the changes that should have occurred at half-time with Diabate replacing Gray and “Ian Nacho” coming on for Simpson. Suddenly, there was a lot more urgency in Leicester’s attitude and more effective attacking. The loss of Simpson at right back meant that Albrighton was asked to run up and down the right wing and it was from an overlap position, having picked up a neat through ball from Mahrez, that he was able to drill a low cross into the penalty area in the 70th minute. Vardy was running into the near-post position to clip it into the net but could not reach the ball. He did not have to – Butland very kindly turned it into his own goal and City were level.
From this point to the end of the match City were switched on again. The change was remarkable. Soon after the goal, further City pressure saw a brilliant save by Butland. Mahrez had picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area and fired in a tremendous shot on target. Butland dived to his right and saved one-handed pushing the ball with his right hand to safety. Vardy hit the ball back in and it was bobbling loose once again on the right of the area. Maguire picked it up and moved forward with it towards the goal. Despite the attention of the Stoke defence he unleashed a powerful shot that (television replays show) was finger-tipped away by Butland on to the post. The ball rebounded to safety and City were foiled again.
Yet this was still not the end of the excitement. Two minutes from full time, Adam, who had come on for Martins Indi fifteen minutes earlier, inexplicably headed an innocuous ball backwards into the path of Mahrez who had a clear run on goal. The crowd rose to their feet expecting to see a late winner, but a combination of keeper and defender managed to recover and block the shot on goal. The City crowd gave a combined sigh of despair. No doubt, the Stoke supporters gave a sigh of relief.
Was there time for any more action? Yes, there was. After a poor clearance by Stoke from yet another corner, Mahrez swung a cross from the left wing into the danger area within the box and James had a clear header which tantalisingly bounced against the far post. Two years ago, luck would have been on City’s side and the ball would have bobbled into the goal. On this occasion, it was a red and white striped shirt that reached the ball and kicked it to safety.
It was a frustrating game. City started well and finished well but for almost an hour in between they played in an incohesive way with no obvious direction and often facing the wrong goal. Once again, the team choice baffled a lot of fans. Why was Gray chosen in preference to Silva? Why has James been chosen ahead of Iborra? Nobody had a shocking game for City; yet no one stood out above anyone else. If Stoke had taken a 2-0 lead following Schmeichel’s kamikaze clearance it would have been terribly unfair as they were unworthy of all three points.
I am often critical of the referee. In this game, Oliver was probably too good. By that I mean he spotted many infringements correctly but by blowing the whistle every time, even for minor misdemeanours, it slowed the game down. My one major criticism, and many referees are guilty of this ploy, was that on the occasion of a Stoke player going down injured but not interfering with play, the game was stopped and, following treatment to him, City were ordered to kick the ball back to a Stoke player from the half-way line. At the point of the whistle being blown, City had possession of the ball, so why should it be given away?
Looking at the table, I notice that we have had 1-1 draws at home to the three teams in the relegation zone. City can do better than this and in each case should have done better. This represents six points thrown away. With them we would be on the tails of Arsenal. Instead, we are crawling towards safety.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson (Iheanacho 62), Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, James, Ndidi, Albrighton, Gray (Diabate 61), Mahrez, Vardy. Subs not used: Jakupovic, Silva, Dragovic, Iborra, Fuchs.
Stoke City: Butland, Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi (Adam 74), Stafylidis, Alle, Cameron, Ndiaye, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting (Johnson 84), Diouf (Campbell 64). Subs not used: Pieters, Jese, Sobhi, Grant
Referee: M. Oliver Attendance: 31,769
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