Leicester City overcame Walsall at the Bank’s Stadium on Saturday morning in the FA Cup. A dull first half ended without either side finding the back of the net. Youri Tielemans missed a (highly dubious) penalty early in the second half, but a deflected Kelechi Iheanacho shot saw the Foxes through to the 5th round of the cup.
If you were expecting manager Brendan Rodgers to make a raft of changes for this FA Cup 4th tie against League Two side Walsall, then prepare to have your expectations dashed. The starting XI: Daniel Iversen, Timothy Castagne, Daniel Amartey, Wout Faes, Luke Thomas, Youri Tielemans (C), Nampalys Mendy, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, and Patson Daka.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Leicester dominated possession in the early going, but it was the lower division side which offered more in the way of threat. The most notable action was a preponderance of players hitting the deck after having their feet stood on, but the referee was having none of it. In fact, Madders went into the book on the quarter hour for complaining about having his foot stood on.
The OP lives up to his name.
After bafflingly allowing the Saddlers to fire in three unopposed crosses into their box, the Foxes finally started to exert a little more control of the match. A low cross found Daka in the six-yard box, but he managed to put his shot out for a throw. In fairness, it was from a tight angle. He had another opportunity from a nice team move a few minutes later, but couldn’t get enough power on his snap-shot to beat Owen Evans in goal.
The half ended at 0-0 and you would be hard-pressed to find another match that deserved that scoreline as enthusiastically as this one. Neither goalkeeper had much to do over the first 45’ and there were no chances that make more than a dot on the xG chart. The Foxes had 12 shots but only the one on target, matching the hosts’ total in that regard. Here’s hoping the second period offers a little more...football.
It turns out that the last comment was one of those “be careful what you wish for” sort of things. There was more action in the first five minutes of the second half than in the entire first period. With the ball swinging around the Walsall box, defender Isaac Hutchinson’s clumsy clearance attempt may have just caught Daka on the edge of the area. The referee belatedly pointed to the spot even though it was, to be generous, “soft.” Tielemans hit the inside of the post and it somehow came back out.
At the other end, Thomas was dispossessed by Robbie Wilmott on the wing. He swing in a cross that found Andy Williams on the penalty spot. The striker hit it on the volley but put it well over. Walsall had another flurry of efforts that were well saved and/or blocked, but wouldn’t have counted due to the flag being up.
Just after the hour, Rodgers made a triple-substitution, withdrawing Daka, Madders, and Thomas for Kelechi Iheanacho, Dennis Praet, and debutante Victor Kristiansen. The moves would pay almost immediate dividends as the Foxes took the lead via The King of the FA Cup™. Mendy worked the ball to Iheanacho well outside the area. The Seniorman drifted inside and shot from distance. It was going well wide, but it took a deflection off of a defender’s back and looped into the net.
Kelechi Iheanacho and the FA Cup. pic.twitter.com/Tyo9GxwOkv— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) January 28, 2023
I’m certain this reference has some currency among our audience. Not to me, mind you, but surely someone gets it.
Worryingly, rather than go for the killer second goal, the Foxes seemed to take their foot off the gas. The Saddlers’ press was causing problems for the City centre-halfs which probably won’t surprise anyone reading this. A flurry of long throws into the Leicester area failed to result in anything truly threatening, but it would only take one bad bounce to change that.
The City substitutes should have put the match to match to bed on 80’. Praet did incredibly well on the right and found Iheanacho in the middle of the six-yard box completely unmarked. The Nigeria man struck it well on the half volley but hit the keeper square in the chest. A few minutes later, Kristiansen should have been celebrating his first match in a Leicester shirt with a nice assist, but KDH scuffed his shot wide with the goalmouth gaping.
The hosts won a free kick 25 yards out at the end of injury time. Conor Wilkinson lined it up, but he rolled it wide with Iversen scrambling. That was the last action of the match as the Foxes did what they needed to do and precious little else.
The statistics suggest a dominant performance by the Foxes: 75% of the possession, 28 shots to Walsall’s 8, and 8 on target vs. 3 for the opponents. It wasn’t quite that clear-cut on the pitch. Many of our shots would fall into the “speculative” category (including the match-winner) and the hosts got more men in the box than we did the few times they got forward. The win was deserved, to be sure, but it was a laboured affair in spite of the apparent dominance.
I know I have been critical of Nampalys Mendy and will likely continue to do so. It’s not that I don’t like him, as he seems a good guy and he works hard, but his contribution on the pitch has been easy to defend. So, it pleases me mightily to report that Mendy registered his second assist for the club today, and his first in the FA Cup. You did well today, lad.
The victory does nothing for our position on the table, but it does get us in the hat for the 5th round draw on Monday. Matches for the round will commence on 1 March. Next weekend, we make another trip to the West Midlands, this time to face our dear, dear friends Aston Villa. After that we start a brutal run where four of the next five are against the dreaded Big Six, starting with a visit from Tottenham Hotspur.