Leicester City topped Wolverhampton Tuesday night at Molineaux on penalties after neither side could find the back of the net in the regulation 90’. However, the Foxes may have lost Demarai Gray for an extended period as the pacey winger landed awkwardly in a challenge and appears to have seriously damaged his ankle.
As expected, Claude Puel rang in the changes, with only Jamie Vardy, Rachid Ghezzal, and Jonny Evans retained from Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Huddersfield Town. Danny Ward started between the sticks behind Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Evans, and Christian Fuchs. Vicente Iborra and Adrien Silva got the nod in central midfield, with Ghezzal and Marc Albrighton on the wings. Shinji Okazaki was recalled to play in the hole behind Vardy in what will probably be listed as a 4-2-3-1 but in reality was more like the 4-4-1-1 of old.
This match was always likely to be an end-to-end affair and the early exchanges lived up to that promise. Wolves had an early penalty shout when Fuchs cleanly tackled Adama Traore in the area, but could have been adjudged to have obstructed him. It would have been harsh, but, (repeat after me), “you’ve seen them given.”
The Foxes then carved out a couple of good opportunities, starting with a roll-back-the-clock break with Okazaki finding Albrighton on the wing and winning an early corner. The clearance fell to Iborra, who flashed a low drive just wide of the net. City won a free kick shortly after and again, the chance fell to the big Spanish midfielder, who headed over from close range.
Things got a little scrappy as City struggled to make their possession pay. A ball over the top aimed at Vardy was shepherded out of play by Kortney Hause. The England man didn’t appreciate being shoved off the ball and did his best Sergio Ramos impression, slamming the Wolves man into the turf.
Note: We here at Fosse Posse would never condone violence on the football pitch, even if the player slammed into the turf was being a complete knob and making no effort to play the ball.
With that out of the way, the run of play continued in much the same fashion to the end of the half. City looked the more likely but seldom truly threatened. Meanwhile, the hosts struggled to get a grip on the match but looked like they could threaten on the break. A good deal of action to report, but no goals. Half-time: Wolverhampton 0 - 0 Leicester.
Both teams emerged from the tunnel unchanged to start the second period, and, unsurprisingly, the match picked up where it left off at the end of the first half. Both sides offered a great deal in terms of energy but not much in the way of quality.
Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo made the first move, sending on Diogo Jota to spearhead the attack. He very nearly gave the Wolverhampton an immediate lead, but somehow failed to hit the target from 6 yards out when it would have been easier to score.
On the hour mark, Puel changed up the attack, sending Kelechi Iheancho and Demarai Gray on in place of Vardy and Okazaki. Neither attackers were involved when the best chance of the match thus far fell to Marc Albrighton. A low Ghezzal cross from the left was deflected across the area and fell to the former Villa man whose goal-bound shot was well-saved by Wolves keeper John Ruddy.
The game was opening up again and this time it was Wolves who nearly broke the deadlock. Traore sprinted free at the halfway line and found a diagonal run by Jota, whose powerful shot was saved by Ward and City just about scrambled the ball clear.
Puel made his final throw of the dice on 83’, sending Hamza Choudhury on for Silva. True to form, the academy product’s first action was to put in an absolutely perfectly timed challenge to break up a Wolves attack. City won a corner, but Fuchs’ volley was struck well wide of Ruddy’s goal.
Wolves won a free kick on the edge of the City area at the start of four minutes of time added on. The ball found the forehead of Leander Dendoncker, but he put his header over the bar when Ward seemed to have it well covered. Wolves were now firmly on the front foot as City defended in numbers.
Disaster struck for City in the 94th minute as Gray slid into a last ditch challenge and immediately called for a trainer as the ball went out of play. The physio put an inflatable cast on the England U21s star’s left ankle and he was stretchered off the pitch.
Listening to #LCFC on the radio. Hoping the injury to Demarai Gray isn’t as serious as it sounds. Commentators flinching— Arlo White (@arlowhite) September 25, 2018
We feel the same way, Arlo. It didn’t look good.
When play finally resumed, City cleared the corner and were off to the races, but Iheanacho’s attempt at a cross or maybe the world’s most audacious chip failed to come off. In spite of the match featuring both sound and fury in great quantities, neither team could break the deadlock and the match ended 0-0.
Demarai Gray update:
Gray is still here and it may not be as serious as first feared. Might just be ligaments. Some positive news #LCFC— Rob Tanner (@RobTannerMerc) September 25, 2018
This being the League Cup, with different rules for different rounds every year, the draw meant that the game would go straight to penalties without a replay or even extra time.
LC: MISS - Fuchs sent Ruddy the wrong way but hit the crossbar.
WW: MISS - Saiss’ low drive to Ward’s left is well-saved.
LC: GOAL - Ghezzal attempts the same shot as Fuchs and shows him how it’s done.
WW: MISS - Jota attempts the same shot as Saiss with the same result.
LC: MISS - Choudhury’s stuttering run-up fails to put Ruddy off and his shot is easily saved.
WW: GOAL - Ashley-Seal dispenses with the silliness and just drives it down the middle.
LC: GOAL - Iborra likes the cut of Ashley-Seal’s jib, hits it the same way. Ruddy gets a hand to it, but can’t save it.
WW: MISS - Traore’s fierce drive is turned on to the upright by Ward.
LC: GOAL - Iheanacho’s silly run-up bamboozles Ruddy, who doesn’t move as the ball bangs into the back of the net.
And that was that. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t especially effective, but City are through to the next round. There weren’t a lot of standout performances, but no one had a truly poor performance either. Fuchs managed to battle Traore to a draw, which was far from a foregone conclusion at the start of the match. Iborra was lively in the midfield, and Albrighton was his usual all-action self. In the end, though, the unlikely hero was Danny Ward, who saved three of the four penalties he faced and whose stop on Jota ensured that the match would go to penalties.
Leicester will discover their 4th round opponent on Saturday, 29 September. Here’s hoping we get a home tie against Derby County, who just knocked Manchester United out of the cup. Nothing like an East Midlands League Cup derby to get the blood flowing.