On Our Way to Wembley

Leicester City 3 Manchester United 1

Report by Tish Krokosz

The first match in which I showed any interest in City was their FA Cup Final against Man. Utd at Wembley in 1963. I was still at junior school, had three (old) pence a week for pocket money and had to follow the game as best as I could by going from shop front to shop front in the city centre where they were showing off their latest TV models. The pundits gave us a good chance of lifting the trophy but it was not to be.

The omens were not good for this quarter final game against the same opposition. They were ahead of us in the table (just). It was 30 matches since United had lost away against English opposition. City had not made it to the semi-finals since 1982. United’s record against City was superior, especially in recent seasons. Yet I felt that it was a good time to play them. They had travelled to Milan for their Europa League match on Thursday and Solskjaer had picked a team for this match that gave several key players a rest.

United started the match with more intent and were knocking the ball around more confidently than City but without any purpose. City weathered the first five minutes and then began to take control, especially in midfield where Ndidi and Tielemans were much stronger and effective than their counterparts, Matic and Fred.

The half chances were coming City’s way but none was conclusive until Fred gifted the ball to Iheanacho in the 25th minute. The on-form striker did not hesitate to move into the box, round the keeper and place the ball into an empty net.

This gave City more confidence and, five minutes later, a long ball down the right found Iheanacho again and he took it towards the penalty area. The only way Maguire could stop him was by fouling him just outside the area. Maguire received a yellow card for this and the ensuing free kick came to nothing.

United’s forays into the City half were generally tame until the 38th minute when Pogba turned Fofana a little too easily and crossed from the left bye-line. Van De Beek ran for the ball but dummied and this allowed Greenwood to follow up behind him and slot the ball past Schmeichel with his left foot. This was United’s first meaningful attack and they were level at half-time despite City being the better team by far.

We found out at the break that one of these teams would be playing Southampton in the semi-final at Wembley.

I was surprised to see that there were no changes in the United line-up for the second half. Their midfield had given the ball away on too many occasions to count, yet Solskjaer was confident that they would prevail. What a mistake! The second period was not very old when Tielemans played a crisp one-two with Iheanacho just past the half-way line. No United player challenged him as he moved forward with the ball and Vardy’s run to the right created a space for Tielemans to shoot into the left-hand corner of the goal giving Henderson no chance.

City should have sealed the tie five minutes later when Vardy made one of his incisive runs into the area slipping the ball past a bemused Maguire leaving a one-on-one against the goalkeeper. During his good run last season, he would have smashed this past Henderson, yet he somehow managed to miss. City were carving through the United midfield with ease and after sixty minutes Solskjaer had seen enough and brought on the cavalry. The fourth official was working overtime as Matic, Van de Beek, Telles and Pogba made way for McTominay, Cavani, Fernandes and Shaw.

This did give United a little more control in midfield and for the next fifteen minutes United had the upper hand going forward with more purpose and effectiveness. City’s three-man defence suddenly became a lot busier but dealt with all the United threats with ease.

Praet came on for Perez in the 72nd minute. The latter had played a reasonable game but the change was instrumental in the next goal. Praet won an innocuous free-kick by the corner flag five minutes after his arrival. The ball was sent over to the far post where an unmarked Iheanacho gratefully headed the ball with power past Henderson’s grasping left hand. Two goals in this quarter-final following his hat-trick last weekend meant that he was rapidly becoming the centre-forward of the moment.

I am always nervous when City are only one goal up, especially against such opposition. The two-goal cushion was still only light relief and continuous checking of the clock did not help matters. City still had to maintain their composure and concentration for another ten minutes plus four minutes of time added on.

With 87 minutes on the clock, United won a free kick after a clumsy challenge by Choudhury, who had replaced Vardy five minutes earlier, on Maguire just outside the penalty area. This was ideal territory for Bruno Fernandes who had been quiet since his introduction. His free-kick was superb and was heading for the top left-hand corner of the goal when Schmeichel made a leap to push the ball out for a corner. This was United’s last meaningful attempt on goal and City saw out the remaining time.

So, another game goes by without a Vardy goal. It is a shame he did not put away his chance in the 58th minute. This would have been a fitting tribute following the announcement in the local press that the scout, Garth Butler, who had spotted Jamie in non-league football and recommended him to City, had died recently. What a find and what a fine run of form by our talisman.

Yet, is there a new kid on the block? I have to admit that in past seasons, I have been a critic of Iheanacho. He did not seem to understand the offside rule. He was clumsy. His positioning was inept. What has Brendan Rodgers done to him to bring him into a position where he is winning man-of-the-match regularly? Is it perseverance? Is it the help of team members? Is it the man himself gaining confidence through regular game time, and, more importantly, regular goals? Whatever it is, bring it on and let him please be injury free.

So, City have finally made it to a FA Cup semi-final. I did wonder whether Brandan Rodgers would put out a slightly weaker team to start the game, but, with a whole week’s rest prior to the game and an international break afterwards, it seemed correct to put out a full strength eleven at the beginning. It clearly paid off. Statistically, the draw has been kind to us, but Southampton cannot be treated as a walkover. It is a pity, though, that the fans will not be able to make the journey to Wembley on this occasion after such a long wait.

Leicester: Schmeichel, Fofana, Evans, Söyüncü, Castaigne, Ndidi, Tielemans, Albrighton, Perez (Praet 73), Iheanacho, Vardy (Choudhury 83). Subs not used: Ward, Mendy, Amartey, Fuchs, Thomas, Leshabela, Daley-Campbell.

Manchester United:  Henderson, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Telles (Shaw 64), Fred (Diallo 84), Matic (McTominay 64), Greenwood, Van de Beek (Bruno Fernandes 64), Pogba (Cavani 64), Martial.  Subs not used: De Gea, James, Williams, Tuanzebe,

Referee: A. Mariner                           Attendance: Around 300

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