Manchester United 1 Foxes 2
Match Report by Graham Tracey
Just as all confidence and belief seemed to be swirling down the season’s plughole, with a third and probably final golden opportunity set to go begging in our last 3 league games, a commanding second half performance brought a potentially pivotal victory that would have looked unlikely for various reasons until the final whistle blew.
Ridiculously unable to sleep for thinking about football at age of 50, I had read the Danny Simpson interview in The Fox the night before, when he spoke about Wes, Kasper and Jamie locking the door and speaking about we wanted to remember ourselves prior to the Great Escape. I imagine that Brendan’s talk at half time must have been similarly profound.
The backdrop to the match was strange even by this season’s strange. United had been expected to make changes, but not as many as the 10 they made from their last game (including an injured Slabhead). Solskjaer played the “don’t blame me for the schedule” card, ignoring that it was self-inflicted by their fans postponing the Liverpool game (unless he is such a lap dog to his owners that he doesn’t think fans are part of the club).
Either way, I would be livid if I was say a Liverpool or West Ham fan, and how United have avoided a points deduction for various aspects of the last few weeks is wrong to me. Nevertheless, anyone who thinks any visiting team winning at Old Trafford is a foregone conclusion hasn’t got much knowledge or experience of football. However, it is a beautiful irony that the plan for a European Super League, driven by a desire to exclude clubs like us, has inadvertently helped us to qualify for the competition they don’t want us in!
For us, Perez started instead of the obviously unfit for 90 minutes Maddison, and Thomas played on the left flank. I was surprised to see Castagne and Albrighton both playing instead of say Amartey, but the way this allowed us to change from a back 4 to 5 worked pretty well.
Things got off to an amazing start after 10 minutes with a goal befitting pre-match video montages. Tielemans escaped down the right, and although his cross was too high for Vardy, Luke Thomas arrived with an incredible cushioned volley into the top corner. This set the tone for a strong performance throughout by the youngster, who particularly after speaking well after the match I certainly feel is mentally up to playing in the cup final if picked.
Sadly, the lead lasted only 5 minutes as just in the quarter final, Greenwood equalised from nowhere, his weak cross shot prompting Schmeichel to inexplicably try to save it with his legs when he could have comfortably diverted it with an outstretched arm. With rain teeming down (and apparently into the press box), it felt like the sky was falling in on our season, as we played miserably for the rest of the half. United’s combination of inexperienced youngsters grew in confidence, and ageing midfielders were put under no real pressure. When we were not slipping on the wet, we were sloppy on the ball. While United were creating nothing up front, we showed no real cohesion and many players were not in the game (particularly Perez).
However, the second half was a revelation. Ndidi now commanded the centre of the pitch, while Tielemans was hungry for the ball. Albrighton was always available in a position to cross, and Iheanacho dropped deep to link and probe at defenders. De Gea had to block from him at point blank range as we turned the screw. United responded by bringing on some big guns – their 9 substitute bench could maybe have beaten their full starting 11 – but committed a legendary error you read about in Roy of the Rovers when you are about 10 by making these changes at a defensive corner. Albrighton (so much better than Madders or Tielemans at corners) swung it over and Soyuncu rose about Rashford to redeem himself for Friday’s horror show.
There was even a brief period when a conclusive third goal seemed a matter of time. Maddison came on and did enough to suggest he is the better bet to start with than Perez on Saturday. Vardy headed back across goal and Tielemans – like Gazza in Euro 96 – slid in and missed by millimetres. Luckly he was not injured as he collided with the post, and unlike Gazza’s it was not a miss we will still remember in 25 years.
Naturally, we decided to keep what we held with 10 minutes to go, Hamza replacing Vardy. But this was not the tidal wave of United attacks, as I remembered watching back in 1998 as we somehow held on to Tony Cottee’s goal for our last victory there. Indeed, the best United could muster was a couple of corners, and ended the game with only their goal as a shot on target. Credit to our defenders without Jonny to marshal them – Soyuncu was still dangerously careless at times, but Fofana was excellent and an extra reason for him to celebrate completion of Ramadan.
Like many of my age, winning the FA Cup would entirely dwarf Champions League qualification, and so my utter joy at this result is as much to do with momentum and confidence ahead of Saturday as the league table, good as this now looks ahead of Liverpool’s catch up opportunities. I do not envy Brendan his selection headaches, which are at least now from a position of greater strength than weakness before this match. A fit-enough Evans has to play for me – we will not be beating Chelsea 5-4 as we could have done to Newcastle eventually – but this means presumably leaving out Albrighton or Thomas which would be incredibly harsh. Maybe VAR won’t spot if we take the field with 12 men. Come on City!
LEICESTER: Schmeichel 5, Castagne 7, Soyuncu 6, Fofana 7, Thomas 8, Albrighton 7, Tielemans 7, Ndidi 7, Perez 4 (Maddison 6), Vardy 6 (Choudhury 6), Iheanacho 7.
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