Leicester City saw off a determined Millwall side on Wednesday evening in London in a 3rd round League Cup tie. A dull first half saw almost no goalmouth action, but the Foxes struck twice in the second period. An early Ademola Lookman goal and a late Kelechi Iheanacho strike gave City a comfortable 2-0 margin.
Manager Brendan Rodgers signalled his intent with his starting lineup selection, but it was a bit of a mixed signal in that there were some regulars, some players trying to return to fitness, and some squad players. The starting XI: Danny Ward, Daniel Amartey, Jonny Evans (C), Çağlar Söyüncü, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Marc Albrighton, Ademola Lookman, and Kelechi Iheanacho.
If you’ve ever seen Leicester City play against lower-division opponents after making a raft of changes, you probably can guess how the game started without any additional information. The Foxes bossed possession over the first half-hour, having all of 72% of the ball. However, the shade of Claude Puel was clearing hanging over the New Den as the Foxes failed to create a single chance or take a shot from distance. The Lions somehow managed four attempts, getting one on target, despite not seeing much of the ball.
Things improved a bit as time wore on, but it was only by the finest of margins. City did a better job of preventing Millwall breaks and even managed to get a shot. Tielemans won a free kick in the hosts’ half and took a crack at it, but he put it over. That proved the only shot of the half for the Foxes. There just wasn’t much pace as City were invited to bring the ball forward and try to break down a side that relished the challenge of defending deep. The halftime whistle went and, honestly, the pace of the game didn’t greatly change as the players walked toward the tunnel.
The same players took the pitch to start the second half, but they looked a different team. The Lions played themselves into trouble, allowing Albrighton to press and win the ball and release Iheanacho. The Seniorman steamed into the area and got his shot off. It was well-saved by Millwall keeper George Long, but he could only parry it as far as Lookman who blasted home from short range.
The game got the goal it desperately needed and suddenly the pace of play increased tremendously. Millwall attempted to strike back and came close to equalizing on the hour mark as Jake Cooper found Shaun Hutchinson in the centre of the area, but he glanced his header just wide with Ward struggling to reach it.
On 70’, Rodgers made his first change. Goalscorer Lookman was taken off for Patson Daka. A couple of minutes later, Jannik Vestergaard came on for Albrighton, indicating a change to a back four and adding a little height to deal with Millwall’s increasingly effective crossing.
With the hosts stretched looking for a goal, the Foxes were always going to look to break and close out the game. The opportunity finally arrived on 85’ when Söyüncü cleared the ball to Ndidi. His perfectly weighted ball found Iheanacho in full flight. With Daka making a run to draw the defenders, the Nigeria striker shifted the ball onto his left boot and unleashed a powerful drive that crashed in off the crossbar.
Are you going to tell him that passing to Daka might have been the better option? I’m not.
Millwall had a mountain to climb and only moments with which to climb it. City kept it tight, professionally seeing out the remaining time and getting a win and a clean sheet away to see them through to the fourth round of the cup.
After the dullest first half one is ever likely to witness, the second half was a significant improvement, and the Foxes were well worth the 2-0 victory. The term “professional” was used so often one suspected that Jean Reno was somehow involved. This one ticked all the boxes: Lookman and Iheanacho looked sharp, Evans got 90 minutes, Ward looked strong, and there were no new injuries. You can’t ask for too much more than that.
The win sees us through to the final 16 of the League Cup. We’ll be hosting Brighton and Hove Albion in the 4th round and, if memory serves, we might owe them a bit of payback. We’re back in league action on Saturday, facing Burnley at the King Power. After that, we travel to Poland to face Legia Warsaw in the Europa League.