VAR opens its account as Iheanacho puts Leicester through
FA Cup round-up: Technology used to rule Nigerian striker was onside
Fleetwood Town goalkeeper Chris Neal looks on as referee Jon Moss awards Leicester City their second goal, scored by Kelechi Iheanacho, following a VAR decision during the FA Cup third-round replay at The King Power Stadium. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leicester City 2 Fleetwood Town 0
In years to come, this might be considered the first success of a football revolution. Or, the beginning of the machines taking over and removing the joy from football. For the first time in the English game, VAR was used to reverse a decision, awarding Kelechi Iheanacho a goal in Leicester’s third-round replay win.
Iheanacho grabbed both goals on what was at first a tricky night for Leicester and the closing stages could have been pretty nerve-racking had his second not been allowed, an erroneous linesman’s flag corrected by TV replays.
Claude Puel made the standard phalanx of changes with Alexandar Dragovic and, surprisingly, Riyad Mahrez remaining from Saturday’s draw with Chelsea. Adrien Silva was one of those to come in: the midfielder, who spent August to December as Schrödinger’s transferee, has made two starts in English football and they have both been against Fleetwood. Presumably that was not in Leicester’s sales pitch.
The problem with a side making this many changes is that they sort of cease to be a team, rather 11 blokes who work in the same place. Unused to playing with each other, Leicester frequently looked like the only thing they had in common was the colour of their shirts, and you did wonder if they knew that, the number of passes that went astray.
Fleetwood were structured and disciplined and, aside from Mahrez shooting just wide from a free-kick, they looked the more threatening side going forwards, the 4-5-1 in defence rapidly turning into a 4-3-3 in attack.
Conor McAleny, who joined them from Everton in the summer, buzzed from the left and forced Eldin Jakupovic into a full-length save. Jordy Hiwula ran stoically as the lone striker, at one point viciously chopped down by the lumpen Yohan Benalouane. Jakupovic had to fingertip an Ashley Hunter shot over the bar and hope grew from the visitors.
But then, such is the way of these things and despite the Premier League side looking disjointed, even nervous, they took the lead. Iheanacho had looked like he was playing in roller skates, but just before half-time he brilliantly flicked a hooked Islam Slimani pass with the outside of his left boot and slotted under Fleetwood goalkeeper Chris Neal.
This was a faint, rare flicker of that old, now ludicrous sounding debate over who was the better player: Iheanacho or Marcus Rashford.
Iheanacho had the ball in the net again a few minutes after the break, but Demarai Gray had just failed to keep the ball in play from the cross. We then had a brief moment of thrilling VAR drama (VARma?) when the referee, Jonathan Moss, pressed a finger to his ear while the chaps in front of the TVs at Premier League base double-checked it was the right decision. It was, but for a second it was all very exciting.
Leicester controlled the game more in the second half, Mahrez moving into a roving No 10 role after Marc Albrighton replaced Slimani, but they could not find a goal.
Then, technology’s moment of redemption. Mahrez slipped a delicious through ball to Iheanacho, who dinked home. Celebrations paused as the linesman raised his flag for offside, but Moss again stood, earpiece forced into his skull like a receptionist in a noisy office, as word came down that the decision was incorrect. The rectangle sign was made, Moss pointed to the centre-circle and history was made.
That wrapped up the tie. The former Fleetwood hero Jamie Vardy came on to the delight of everyone present and the last 10 minutes were spent trying to get him a goal. That did not come, but Leicester go through to face Peterborough in the fourth round.
In the night’s other replays, West Ham were taken to extra-time by Shewsbury Town before 21-year-old defender Reece Burke hammered home from inside the box after 112 minutes at the London Stadium to seasl a 1-0 win.
Cardiff City set up an FA Cup fourth-round meeting with Manchester City following a 4-1 win at Mansfield Town. Goals from Bruno Ecuele Manga, Junior Hoilett (two) and Republic of Ireland international Anthony Pilkington eased Cardiff’s path.
Jos Luhukay claimed his first win as Sheffield Wednesday manager as they saw off Carlisle United at Hillsborough. Goals from Marco Matias and Atdhe Nuhiu were enough while Reading beat Stevenage 3-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. – Guardian service