Newport County 2 Leicester City 1

Emirates FA Cup – 6 January 2019

Match Report by Colin Murrant

Such is the loss in prestige of the grand old FA Cup competition, that the chat in the pub before the match was more about another away ground visited than the fixture itself. No one under 72 was born the last time City played at Newport so this was an opportunity to get another ground ticked off the 92.

The FA themselves have done their best to devalue their premier competition over recent years by spreading fixtures over four days, playing the semi-finals at Wembley, playing the final at 5.00 pm for American audiences. In fact, through play-offs and mediocre competitions, the glamour of playing at Wembley is not what it was.

On top of this the Clubs themselves put out second string teams yet still say ‘we take the competition seriously’; seriously, do you?? City are more culpable than most in this respect, whilst Fulham are facing a Premier League survival battle, City sit comfortably on 31 points and are not going to be relegated unless they endure a crash of biblical proportions.

So, as in the Carabao Cup semi-final, we were serious about the competition but apparently not that serious. There may well be an argument over resting players after the busy Christmas/New Year schedule, if that is the case then what was evident is the lack of depth to the current squad.

The firing line is non-existent without Vardy, to think in the same round of the Cup two seasons ago Musa scored a brace playing the Vardy role. Iheanacho and Okazaki offer nothing up front, the loss of any impact from the latter is now quite conspicuous. To think 3 strikers left the Club in the summer, each had their critics, but each offered more than what we have in reserve now.

Midfield creativity is sadly lacking, there was nothing yesterday until Maddison came on at half time, City were reliant on long, lofted high balls that were totally ineffective against a resolute team. Whilst we lacked such creative skills it begged the question why has Silva not been given a run in the team, same for Iborra who was in Spain securing his move to Villareal.

The new City style of play has involved the full-backs pushing forward in attack, Chilwell (not in the squad) and Ricardo (bench warming for 90 minutes) are the two that perform this role, their replacements Fuchs and Simpson cannot. Monsieur Puel, in his wisdom, decided on Sunday that he needed to change his right full back after 60 minutes.

Logically this should have been to bring on December player of the month Ricardo, but no, Albrighton was moved back.  The same Albrighton who has always looked uncomfortable in that position, including being red carded at Crystal Palace last season. Again, the decision was going to prove pivotable.

As we crossed the bridge over the River Usk, a few metres from the Rodney Parade ground, the muddy banks made one wonder what the pitch was going to be like. In all honesty, the pitch was bumpy but perfectly dry and playable, and in no way impacted the result. The stadium had an eeriness about it, the floodlights were far below what is witnessed in the Premier League, the low level of light afforded gave a somewhat subdued atmosphere to the proceedings.  In spite of this, the 1000 plus City fans who had travelled to South Wales were initially in good spirit. ‘Vichai had a dream…’ rang out from the open seating in the South stand as the match kicked off with Leicester attacking that end, surely the result was not in doubt, or so we thought.

It took all of ten minutes for the optimism to give way to doubt. Willmott outpaced Fuchs and, from the wing swung in a superb ball that Matt, easily out-jumping Morgan, headed into the net off the far post. Newport were organised, robust and put bodies on the line to thwart City. Matt had another chance for the home side but Ward saved well. City’s most threatening moment came when Fuchs made a good run and, cutting in from the by-line, laid the ball to Albrighton whose shot was deflected up and over.

Another strange decision was made when the seemingly unwanted Andy King came on as substitute in what may be his last City appearance. Having read up on previous match statistics, in 1947 Leicester last beat Newport 3-0, a certain Johnny King scored twice – the thought crossed my mind, could it happen again? Sadly No.

The chances piled up for City, most notably another Albrighton shot across goal that hit the cross bar. In the 82nd minute they got the break they wanted, following a goal mouth melee, the ball was cleared to the edge of the box. Ghezzal, running onto the ball, hit a thunderous shot into the back of the net. Immediately City’s spirits were lifted, it appeared the ultimate humiliation was avoided.

The joy lasted all of three minutes, the afore mentioned Albrighton at right back handled the ball, he offered no protest, Kavanagh pointed to the spot. All hopes were now on Ward to reproduce his Carabao Cup heroics – it was not to be. Ward dived to his right as Amond went down the middle. Hearts sank again.

Maddison offered one last chance but his effort failed to curl enough and went wide of the far post.The statistics say City had 71% possession, 24 shots, but it did not feel like that. It was total embarrassment felt by all, how can one reconcile seventh place in the Premier League with the dross served up. The gloom of the stadium was reflected in the fans.

There were very heated exchanges and arguments, some spilling over, about the lack of abilities of Ghezzal, Iheanacho, Gray and, of course, Puel: there were several Leicester fans chanting ‘He’s getting sacked in the morning’ at the end. If fans fall out with each other it is a sure sign of unrest.

In 1969 I attended the FA Cup Final, it was City’s third final in eight years. If I had known 50 years later that Leicester City would still be awaiting their next final I would have been amazed, disappointed and embarrassed – exactly how I felt Sunday evening.

Newport County: Day, Hornby-Forbes*(67), Franks, Demetriou, Neufville, Bennett, Dolan***(86), Willmott, Amond, Semenyo, Matt**(77). Substitutes: Piper**, Marsh-Brown, Sheehan, Foulston, O’Brien***, Townsend, Bakinson**

Leicester City: Ward, Simpson**(60), Morgan, Evans, Fuchs, Choudhury, Ghezzal, James***(72), Okazaki*(45),Albrighton, Iheanacho. Substitutes: Jakupovic, Soyuncu, Gray**, King***, Maddison*, Ricardo, Mendy

Referee: Kavanagh  Attendance: 6,705

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