Leicester City suffered a shocking defeat to League 2 strugglers Newport County at the Rodney Parade on Sunday evening, ending our FA Cup campaign before it had a chance to get started. Goals by Jamile Matt and Padraig Armond on either side of a Rachid Ghezzal rocked doomed the Foxes to defeat against a side you would have expected them to handle comfortably, or you would if you haven’t been watching many Leicester matches this year.
Silva done here. Diabate going on loan? Maguire Vardy Ndidi rested. Just play well lads. Big game for Nacho & Ghezzal #lcfc— jay allėn (@jayjay_allen) January 6, 2019
I think you got it about half right, mate.
It says something about Leicester City’s depth that manager Claude Puel was able to start five players from the Premier League-winning 2015/16 side in a 5th round FA Cup tie. Danny Ward got the nod in goal behind a back four of Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans, and Christian Fuchs. The defensive midfield was a surprise pairing of Hamza Choudhury and Matty James, making his first appearance in 10 months. Marc Albrighton, Shinji Okazaki, and Rachid Ghezzal comprised an attacking midfield behind lone striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
The Foxes dominated the early exchanges and very nearly went on top in the fourth minute. With the ball pinballing around the Newport area, the sea parted in front of Ghezzal and he struck the ball sweetly towards the near post, but Exiles’ keeper Joe Day did well to get a hand to it and turn it around the post.
Ghezzal had another gilt-edged chance to get the opener on 8’. Albrighton picked up a loose ball in midfield and drove into the hosts’ area before reversing it to Ghezzal. The Algerian carried it into the area and had a clear shot from 15 yards, but he lost his footing and drove it right at the keeper.
The Foxes were made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal almost immediately. Newport’s Robbie Wilmott drove down the right and dropped a perfect cross into the six yard box. Jamile Matt got away from Morgan to get a free header, which he placed perfectly against the bar and into the net.
The Exiles nearly double their lead on the quarter hour mark. Simpson needlessly fouled Antoine Semenyo just outside of the area. Matt Dolan’s curling free kick was bound for the top left corner, but Ward did well to collect it and keep the Foxes in the match.
City really should have scored on the next trip down the pitch. Fuchs did a magnificent job keeping the ball alive and pulling it back for Albrighton. The former Villa man only had to put it on target from the penalty spot, but his effort was deflected well over the bar. From the ensuing corner, Evans headed the ball across the face of goal, but Okazaki glanced it wide when any kind of solid contact would have leveled the score.
What followed was a surprising run of sustained pressure by the hosts. Newport were able to keep the play in the Leicester half and had several corners, long throws, and free kicks. City struggled to keep the ball and string any passes together and the Exiles were looking quite comfortable, even going close through another cross that should have been dealt with by the centre-halfs but found Matt instead.
The Foxes had a brilliant opportunity to level the score on 37’ minutes but once again weren’t able to convert. A long, cross-field ball found a marauding run by Fuchs on the left. He drove into the area and pulled it back for Okazaki, but his first time effort was poor and struck a defender directly in front of the keeper and the chance was lost. That would be the last goalmouth action of the half, condemning Leicester to a 1-0 deficit at the break and, one imagines, a very unhappy talk from the gaffer in the boot room.
The Foxes made one change at the half, sending James Maddison on in place of Okazaki. I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but, anecdotally, it feels as though Puel makes more like-for-like changes than any manager I’ve ever seen. The Foxes slowly, slowly started to get moving and looked like they might finally breech the Exiles’ defense.
We had our first Iheanacho sighting on 51’. A cross in from the left (and everything was coming down the left for Leicester), just eluded two defenders. The former Manchester City striker rose for it, closed his eyes, and struck it with his shoulder but at least got it on target. Immediately after, Albrighton cut in from the left side and curled in a cross-shot that beat Day and bounced off the crossbar.
OK, so forget that thing I said about like-for-like; Puel sent Demarai Gray on for Simpson on 59’, going three at the back. City had a chance to level almost immediately. A cross in from the right should have been dealt with by Mickey Demetriou, but he sliced his clearance straight up in the air. Iheanacho took the ball over his shoulder, but could only slice his shot wide of the net from six yards out.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but City had yet another golden opportunity to level the match. Albrighton, now playing on the right, broke clear of his man and crossed the ball in front of the net, begging for either Gray or Iheanacho to get a touch, but neither of them we able to nudge the ball into the net. The rebound fell to Maddison, whose scuffed shot beat the keeper but was well cleared by the Newport defense and, yet again, the chance was lost.
Puel made his final throw of the dice, taking off Matty James and giving Foxes’ legend Andy King his first match of the year. The run of play continued to be much the same: The Foxes had all of the ball and created half-chances, but the match was being played at what might generously be described as a “canter”.
City finally made the pressure, such as it was, pay on 82’. Once it again, it was Albrighton (who was booed every time he touched the ball for some reason) who created the opening. His cross found the head of Iheahancho, who cushioned a header back for Maddison. The former Norwich City man’s shot was goal-bound, but well-saved by Day. The clearance by Franks was directly into the stride of Ghezzal, who fired in a bullet of a shot that Day got a hand to but couldn’t keep out of the net.
The Foxes were level for only three minutes. A cross from the right side was blocked by Albrighton, but the winger-turned-right-back raised his elbow to protect his face. He left the referee no choice but to blow for the penalty. Padraig Armond sent Ward the wrong way and the Exiles’ lead was restored.
The Foxes came close to equalising deep in injury time. Choudhury worked a lovely ball across the middle of the box to Kingy, but the Wales international showed his rust and fired his shot directly at Day. Later, Madders had a shot across the face of the goal that had many City fans out of their seats, but it looked closer than it was and that would be the last chance for the Foxes.
Before getting into the summary, I’d like to take a moment to point out how poor the commentary was. I don’t often do this, but it was really shocking stuff. The commentators’ narrative was centered around the idea that manager Claude Puel had chosen a weak side and wasn’t taking the cup seriously. This was flat-out incorrect: Puel started exactly one player who hadn’t been regularly involved this year. It was an unusually strong lineup for a Premier League team to field in an away match against a League 2 side immediately following four league matches in eleven days. I understand that part of their job is to build a story for television audiences, but the one they chose was wildly at odds with reality and they should be ashamed of it.
If we can't rest Vardy, Maguire, Ricardo etc against a League Two side, after a hectic Christmas schedule, then when can we? This starting 11 should have won comfortably. We have Southampton next week and 3 top six opponents in a row very soon, hence all these changes. #lcfc— Kip Smithers (@CaliBesteen) January 6, 2019
With that out of the way, we were genuinely awful and at times we certainly looked like a weakened side, even if the teamsheet said otherwise. The criticism of Puel’s tactics, that his teams cannot cope with packed defenses, was on display for all to see today. City created many good chances, but not as many as you would have expected given the two clubs involved, and the finishing was shockingly poor. The defeat today was harsh, but only one side took their chances today and they’re the ones advancing to the next round of the cup.
I don’t believe that any player had what could be described as an unreservedly “good” match. Both Albrighton and Ghezzal looked dangerous and more interested than most of their teammates, but both were guilty of incredibly sloppy play as well. Fuchs failed to close down his man in the build up to the first goal, but he was one of our most dangerous options going forward. Choudhury looked absolutely dominant in the first quarter hour and then disappeared completely after that.
My thoughts on Puel in or Puel out depends on if he still insists we don't need another striker. If he says no we don't then I just can't see his logic. The closest he gets to a plan b at present is Albrighton playing right back. #lcfc— Chris Tadman (@tadders86) January 6, 2019
The only good thing I can take from this match is that we got to see Matty James and Andy King on the pitch. James is one of the most injury-cursed players I’ve ever seen, but he’s more than capable of being a solid addition to the squad. Sadly, Puel doesn’t seem to have any use for King, but seeing him in a Leicester shirt one more time warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart.
So, in the end, it was garbage. Let’s move on. But if I’m involved in the club’s front office, I’m having a long chat with Puel not about his team selection but instead about what his plan is for breaking down teams that give the Foxes plenty of possession and pack their penalty area with defenders. We beat Manchester City, Chelsea, and Everton, but we lost to Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, and Newport County. That is what we in the trade refer to as a “pattern”.
With no further cup play to worry about, all of the remaining matches will be in the league. The next one will be on Saturday morning at home to Southampton and then it’s off to the West Midlands to face Wolves and Molineaux on the 19th of January.