Leicester City 2 v 0 Fleetwood Town
Report by Stuart Dawkins
Those 17,237 hardy souls who braved an increasingly cold evening to watch this FA Cup replay were rewarded with an “I was there” moment of historic proportions. The 60-odd seconds between Iheanacho being flagged for offside and the over-ruling of that flag by someone sitting in a studio in London, marked the first time that the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) system had changed a decision in English football.
In truth, the rest of the match was largely unremarkable. Puel make myriad changes from the team at Stamford Bridge, retaining only Amartey, Dragovic and Mahrez – the latter wearing the captain’s armband. Slimani and Iheanacho were the new front-pair, with Iborra and Silva the new central midfield.
The game started as a continuation of the tie at Highbury, Fleetwood pressed hard and City players found they had very little time on the ball. The visitors played like what they are: a more-than-decent League One side. The question was, how long would they be able to maintain that level of intensity?
The City team played like what they are: a bunch of players who have barely ever played a competitive game together. There were few passages of flowing play, Fleetwood forced a couple of decent saves from Jakupovic. There were a few yellow cards for incautious tackles … and not much else to talk about. In the first 40 minutes, City did not manage a shot on target. That changed in the 43rd minute.
Do you remember the Kelechi Iheanacho who, last season, would come on as a substitute for Manchester City and almost inevitably score a goal with a piece of clinical finishing? Well, following a clever flicked pass from Slimani, that Iheanacho finally turned up in a Leicester City shirt, controlling the ball effortlessly, stepping into space between two centre-backs and scoring under the advancing keeper with apparent ease. A one-nil score-line at half time flattered Leicester. Neither side had done much to warrant a lead, it was simply one of those cliched “one moment of magic from the Premier League side” which marked the difference.
Neither manager made any changes for the start of the second half. Leicester, however, began to dominate the game. It was noticeable that throughout the match, City were taking quick free kicks and largely ‘getting on with it’. If that was a deliberate ploy to reduce the amount of time Fleetwood’s players had for rest and recovery – it worked. As Fleetwood tired, City had more time on the ball, more space, and the gap in quality between the players began to show. Silva began to do tricks and make runs. Gray and Mahrez began to look more of the threat we know they can be.
Ten minutes into the second half, it was still only one-nil and Puel made a change – bringing on Albrighton for Slimani. Slimani was clearly frustrated at the substitution. He had not had a bad game: he linked up well, finding space between the Fleetwood defensive lines, he set up the goal well, and a one-two with Iheanacho early in the second half gave him a tricky but scorable shooting opportunity which unfortunately he fluffed.
The change of formation, with Mahrez moved into the centre and Albrighton taking the left wing, worked well, however. City were looking increasingly threatening and Fleetwood did not register one shot in the second half until the 86th minute.
That is to leap ahead of the key moment in this match. Jon Moss (yes, him again!!) had refereed well. He had clearly indicated to the crowd each time that he was listening to VAR-referee Michael Jones. Iheanacho finished sweetly in the 62nd minute, but – after consulting with VAR – Moss concurred with his Assistant referee that the ball had marginally crossed the line for a goal kick before Gray had crossed it. In the 71st minute, he again consulted over a defender apparently holding Iborra in the penalty area. This was one of those “seen them given, but not clear-cut” decisions and play was allowed to continue.
Then, in the 77th minute there was a bit of Mahrez trickery in the middle of the pitch, his pass released Iheanacho who calmly clipped the ball into the net over the advancing keeper. The assistant referee had flagged Iheanacho offside. Watching it live, it was impossible to say. Moss indicated that he was talking to the VAR referee by putting his finger in his ear, and we waited …
… the longer the crowd waited, the more possible it seemed that the offside decision might be over-ruled. The home fans increased the noise level. Far from it being a lull of just over 60 seconds, it was engaging – it was clear what was going on and actually quite exciting!
By now, we have all seen the TV footage: Jon Moss gave the square TV-shaped signal, pointed to the centre spot and Leicester were two-nil up. For many reasons - some good some bad and some irrelevant in my opinion – VAR will continue to spark debate, but on the evidence solely of this match I thought it worked well.
The final result was not in any doubt. Iheanacho had a decent effort blocked, thus not getting a hat-trick, before he and Mahrez were replaced for the last ten minutes by Vardy and Okazaki. Vardy’s appearance got a huge cheer from the Fleetwood fans, who were magnificent throughout. They had turned up in decent numbers for such a long journey for a televised match. They supported their team vociferously throughout (“Lancashire … is full of cod, oh Lancashire is full of cod …” is now in my top-ten favourite football chants), and capped it all by singing “If Vardy scores, we’re on the pitch”.
Unfortunately, Vardy did not score – although it felt that the only people in the stadium who did not want him to were the eleven Fleetwood players and their manager Uwe Rosler.
Over the full 90-minutes, it was an effective performance from Leicester, and a very creditable one from Fleetwood. That is, of course, not what will be remembered. We hardy 17,237 can simply say … “we were there!”
Leicester: Jakupovic, Amartey, Dragovic, Benalouane, Fuchs, Mahrez, Silva, Iborra, Gray, Iheanacho, Slimani. Subs: Vardy, Albrighton, Hamer, Maguire, Okazaki, Ndidi, Barnes
Fleetwood: Neal, Jones, Pond, Bolger, Bell, Hunter, Glendon, Schwabl, Dempsey, McAleny, Hiwula-Mayifuila. Subs: Coyle, Burns, Grant, Cairns, Sowerby, Cargill, Cole
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