Welcome to the big leagues, Wigan

Leicester City 2 v 0 Wigan Athletic

Report by Stuart Dawkins

It says a lot about the popularity of Leicester City at present that more than 30,000 paid to see a Third Round FA Cup tie against Championship opposition.  There seemed to be lots more family groups in the crowd than usual – the Cup giving an opportunity for people who may not always be able to get tickets for high-flying City to see their heroes. 

It also says a lot about Leicester City that today those ‘heroes’ were largely City’s second team.  Through some inspired squad rotation by Brendan Rodgers, we now know that even that ‘second team’ are a more-than-decent Premier League side. 

Wigan turned up to play football but found that the Premier League has players who are faster, stronger and quicker of thought than they could handle … oh, and it has VAR too, but more of that later.

Rodgers made nine changes, keeping only Barnes and Chilwell from the usual starting side.  This gave the opportunity for a first-team debut for Benkovic, who got a positive welcome from the home crowd.  City played in a 4-3-3 formation and – to many people’s surprise – it was Barnes, rather than Gray, who played in the central role.  Also interesting was that Choudhury mostly played further forward than Mendy, rather than taking the holding role.

For once, the unusual kick-off time – 5:31pm – could not be blamed on TV companies.  A Tigers home game earlier in the afternoon meant for a later start, and all matches in this round of the Cup were prefaced by a one-minute video from the Heads Up, Every Mind Matters campaign in support of mental health.

City looked fairly comfortable right from the start.  It is arguable that Leicester’s squad depth is one of the best in the Premier League.  The players play in the same style as the regular first team, and each seems to be well briefed on their role.  City’s wide players, particularly Albrighton, got a lot of the ball.  The midfield was stronger in the tackle and faster to almost everything loose in the middle of the pitch, and the defensive line looked comfortable playing the ball out of defence.

Despite City looking comfortable, Wigan nearly scored the first goal – their attack being flagged for offside (probably correctly) before being shot wide.  Indeed, Wigan were caught offside a lot in the game … but more of that later, too.

The attack sparked the decent away support into more vociferous chants, including the priceless “FA Cup Champions, you’ll never sing that”.  A couple of minutes later, however, it began to be clear that Wigan themselves would not be “FA Cup Champions” this year.  Barnes played a neat pass to release Albrighton, who could not out-pace the defence, but did cut back to put in a low cross from the left, Wigan’s Pearce could not untangle his feet to deal with the cross, and somehow it bounced off his ankles and past his own ‘keeper into the net from 10 yards.  It was a lucky break for City, but one their dominance of play probably warranted.

A minute later, Barnes and Choudhury linked up on the edge of the Wigan penalty area, and it took a good save to prevent it from being 2-0.

A couple of minutes later, Morgan pulled up with what appeared to be a muscle injury, his match lasting just 23 minutes before being replaced by Soyuncu.

City continued to dictate the play and create reasonable chances, then with five minutes to go to half-time, Wigan played a neat bit of attacking football to create a crossing opportunity from the right.  Ward, in goal, did brilliantly to get the tip of a finger to divert the low cross, or it would have been a tap-in equalizer for Wigan.  Instead, City re-grouped and within less than a minute were two-nil up.  Barnes was released behind the Wigan defence, cut back to shoot and – despite a significant deflection off the defender’s leg – managed to find the far corner of the goal.

The second half was mostly routine for Leicester.  Not quite the stroll they had against Newcastle’s ten-men in their last match, but certainly not the intensity and pace which they would expect to face in a league match.

The main worry for City was that, in the 65th minute, they lost a second centre-back to injury – Benkovic being replaced by Fuchs.  Let’s hope the injury is not too serious, or City’s resources in that part of the team will begin to look very sparse – never mind the impact on Benkovic himself.

The match was petering out into a comfortable home victory when, in the 71st minute, Wigan put together a good set of passes in midfield, the ball reached the left wing, was crossed and volleyed into the net.  It was a very good goal, although very much against the run of play.

… then the referee put his hand to his ear and Wigan’s fans were treated to a VAR experience – the goal being ruled out as the winger was marginally offside when the ball was passed to him.  The picture shown on the big screens made it clear it was the correct decision, although it was the kind of ‘goal’ that would almost certainly have stood pre-VAR, as the attacker and the last defender were separated by almost the entire width of the pitch, and I doubt a human eye would be able to spot the inches involved to make that decision.

With fifteen minutes to go, Ndidi replaced Mendy.  Mendy had played very well, showing a good range of passes – it is a real credit to him how well he has played given the recent couple of chances after so long in the wilderness.  Ndidi began by making a barn-storming run through the Wigan defence before tumbling in the box under a challenge.  It did not look like a penalty, but the match was held up for a short time for VAR to confirm that, indeed, no foul had been committed.

Gray had a trademark shot (albeit from his left foot for a change) well saved by Marshall.  Barnes – who had played the striker role well – made a 70-yard run before having his near-post shot saved by Marshall, and that was about that.

It was a good, professional performance by City.  The fans enjoyed themselves and the experimental ‘singing and banners area’ behind the goal for Union FS looked and sounded great.  Wigan, too, played well – they were just not quite good enough to compete with this current, very impressive Leicester City team – whichever eleven players are chosen to play.

As my friend, rather ambitiously, texted me afterwards – the domestic treble is still on which is more than can be said for Liverpool!

Leicester City: Ward, Justin, Morgan, Benkovic, Chilwell, Mendy, Albrighton, Praet, Choudhury, Gray, Barnes. Subs: Söyüncü, Maddison, Iheanacho, Pérez, Ndidi, Fuchs, Jakupovic

Wigan: Marshal, Sterling, Kipre, Dunkley, Pearce, Evans, Morsy, Massey, Williams, Dowel, Windass. Subs: Robinson, MacLeod, Lowe, Garner, Roberts, Jones, Gelhardt

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