Leicester City fumbled their way past Gillingham in the FA Cup by a score of 1-0 on Saturday. I’ve googled “the dullest thing in the world” and the majority of the items on that list are thrill rides compared to the goalless first half of this match. Kelechi Iheanacho scored in the second period and that was enough to see the Foxes through.
As you may have expected, manager Brendan Rodgers made a raft of changes to the side that lost 1-0 to Fulham on Tuesday. The starting XI featured some new faces, some older faces we haven’t seen in a good while, and a GOAT or two: Daniel Iversen, Marc Albrighton (C), Jannik Vestergaard, Çağlar Söyüncü, Lewis Brunt, Kasey McAteer, Youri Tielemans, Nampalys Mendy, Ayoze Perez, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Jamie Vardy.
The match started at what might be generously referred to as a “leisurely” pace. The Gills sat deep, giving the Foxes ages on the ball. Given the amount of playing time some of the City players have seen this year, the passing and movement weren’t especially crisp. With the swirling winds and the deep block, the ball over the top wasn’t on but that didn’t stop Leicester from trying it time and again, leading to a lot of half-hearted thumbs-ups from frustrated attackers.
Both sides caved out a single fraction of a chance in the first half hour. Albrighton swung a marvellously weighted pass between the back line and the keeper. Vardy was on it. The ball bobbled awkwardly on the floor and the former England man couldn’t get the contact to guide it into the net. At the other end, Mendy gave the ball away in midfield, gifting it to Dom Jefferies. The striker was allowed to carry the ball into the area where his low drive was well-saved by the diving Iversen.
The commentators spent most of their time chiding the Foxes for their lack of urgency and inability to bother the hosts’ defence. It was a little like those Mitchell and Webb snooker sketches, in that they had to fill the gaps in the game’s action with tangentially related stories and complaints about how the game had gone. Add that to the fact that the broadcast featured a single camera just above pitch level, and the whole affair was a bit surreal.
I’m doing it too, aren’t I? Filling space with chatter when there’s no action on the pitch? Guilty as charged. It was genuinely dreadful stuff. The half bore on, with “bore” being the operative word. Gillingham looked somewhat dangerous on set pieces, with long throws, in particular, looking a potentially profitable vector of attack. Leicester hit the post right before halftime as the wind nearly carried Iheanacho’s cross into the far corner.
Only one minute was added on and it quite predictably failed to produce a goal. City had 76% of the possession but only turned that positional dominance into four shots, only one of which was on target. The hosts managed twice as many goal-bound efforts as manager Neil Harris was surely the happier manager at the break.
I’ve decided we are going to switch to second-half commentary of Forest Green v Birmingham on @talkSPORT2. Even though it’s postponed.— Jason Bourne (@JasonBourne1986) January 7, 2023
I...I don’t have anything to add to this. Well played, Jason.
Both managers kept the faith with their starting XI at the start of the second period. City called Gills’ keeper Jake Turner into action after only one minute as Albrighton’s mis-hit cross nearly crept inside the far corner. The hosts then poured forward and saw a goalbound effort blocked by Vestergaard with Iversen possibly beaten.
The Foxes took the lead on 56’ with a goal featuring more fortune than quality. A cross bobbled across the Gillingham area, taking a deflection or two, before falling to McAteer. Having seen two crosses turn into shots, it was only appropriate that the academy man’s shot would wind up being an inadvertent pass. Vardy failed to control it, but in doing so nudged it to Iheanacho, who lashed it into the back of the net with aplomb.
16 - Since his first appearance in the competition in January 2016, Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho has scored more FA Cup goals than any other player (16). Specialist. pic.twitter.com/SYt7nVuTtP— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 7, 2023
The King of the FA Cup
The match gained a little bit of much-needed tempo after the goal. Both Iheanacho and Vardy saw shots saved by Turner. Vestergaard even got in on the act, heading over from an Albrighton free kick. The traffic was largely one-way at this point, but without a second goal for Leicester, it remained a very nervous affair.
With ten minutes remaining, Rodgers hauled off Vardy and Mendy for Patson Daka and Wilfred Ndidi. Daka was nearly on the scoresheet immediately as Iheanacho’s low cross just evaded him at the far post. The gaffer made another change almost immediately, introducing Luke Thomas for McAteer.
Scott Kashket had the ball in the back for the Gills in the second minute of injury time, but he was rightly flagged for being miles offside. The whistle blew and the Foxes were through to the next round, one where this sort of performance is less likely to be good enough.
I’m pretty sure that videos of this match will enter someday be an urban legend, one of those cursed cassettes that doom the viewer to some ungodly fate like “watching this match again.” You might have reasonably expected one or two youth players to stand out, or one of the fringe players to make the case for inclusion in the starting XI, or maybe just a team playing with a little freedom and joy. None of that happened.
Leicester played slowly, carefully, and almost as poorly as Gillingham. The commentators insisted that you couldn’t tell the vast difference in quality between these sides, but that wasn’t true. It was obvious that the Leicester players were better, they just seemed unable to get out of their own way at times. City doubled the Gills’ possession, shots, and shots on goal and some managed to do this in the least-impressive way possible.
The match has no impact on our place in the league, but it does see us through to the next round of the FA Cup. We’ll discover our opponents on Monday evening. On Tuesday, we travel to the northeast to face Newcastle at St. James’ Park in the League Cup. Premier League action resumes on the 14th when we host Nottingham Forest to close out the first half of the campaign.