Some relief for Ranieri as Leicester clear FA Cup hurdle
Goals in extra-time from Wilfred Ndidi and Demarai Gray see off battling Derby County
Leicester City’s Yohan Benalouane in action against Derby’s Richard Keogh at the King Power Stadium. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Leicester City 3 Derby County 1
It was another of those ties that highlighted the FA Cup’s fading appeal as the nation’s favourite knockout competition received an unwelcome reminder that it continues to be little more than a distraction for some clubs.
Claudio Ranieri and Steve McClaren made a total of 18 changes between them, prioritising Premier League survival and a Championship play-off push, meaning that those who watched were rewarded with a second-rate contest.
Ranieri, who was preoccupied with Sunday’s crunch game at Swansea City, saw Leicester take the lead courtesy of Andy King’s header only for Derby to force extra-time through Abdoul Camara’s deflected shot.
That additional period ended with Leicester securing their place in the fifth round and a trip to Millwall on Saturday week after Wilfred Ndidi came off the bench to register his first goal for the club with a superb 25-yard left-footed shot and Demarai Gray, slaloming his way through the Derby defence, added an excellent third.
It was a strange evening and clear from the outset that what we were watching was effectively a reserve game. Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth and Jamie Vardy did not even make the Leicester bench on a night when Ahmed Musa was the sole survivor from the team that lost 3-0 at home against Manchester United on Sunday.
Ranieri had clearly taken the view that he could not afford to risk any injuries ahead of the game at the Liberty Stadium.
The tie badly needed an early goal to bring it to life, yet there was no sign of a breakthrough in an opening 45 minutes that produced a couple of penalty appeals and little else.
Leicester were left feeling aggrieved on both occasions and they certainly seemed to have a strong case when Jason Shackell brought down Musa after Jonathan Christie, the Derby goalkeeper, put Richard Keogh under pressure on the edge of his own area with a poor pass.
Ikechi Anya looked lively on the Derby left while Demarai Gray created Leicester’s best moment in the first half, when the winger delivered an inviting low cross from the right that Musa, stretching every sinew, was unable to touch home.
The onus was now on Derby to show some attacking adventure. Ron-Robert Zieler, who clawed Jacob Butterfield’s angled drive around the post in the first half, repelled another shot from distance, this time from Camara. But Camara’s next effort found the net after the winger’s low 22-yard shot took a huge deflection off Chilwell, leaving the German wrong-footed.
Back came Leicester. King, with a glancing header that drifted just wide, came close to a late winner and Mitchell was fortunate to escape a red card for a clear handball outside the area when Musa burst through.
LEICESTER CITY: Zieler, Amartey, Wasilewski, Benalouane, Chilwell, King, Mendy (Ndidi 91), Albrighton, Kapustka (Mahrez 81), Gray, Musa (Slimani 91). Subs not used: Drinkwater, Hamer, Okazaki, Fuchs. Booked: Mendy, Musa.
DERBY COUNTY: Mitchell, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Lowe, Butterfield, de Sart, Johnson (Vydra 53), Camara (Russell 74), Blackman (Nugent 82), Anya. Subs not used: Carson, Ince, Baird, Pearce. Booked: Christie.
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire).