Thursday, 9 February 2017

08/02/17 Review: Leicester City vs Derby County

Leicester City 3-1 Derby County [After Extra Time] (FA Cup Fourth Round Replay)
King Power Stadium

Right then, I suppose it's about time I told the tale of the time that 'Pint of Football' went to see the champions. After the phenomenal achievement of lifting the 2015/16 Premier League title, Leicester City certainly don't need the usual introduction I give in my write-ups. Basically, if you don't know about them, literally go on to Google and type in "footballing miracle".

Told ya!
This season though was something slightly different. Despite being into the last 16 of the Champions League and still competing in the FA Cup, the Foxes sit just one point outside of the Premier League's relegation zone and two points off the foot of the table. With zero league goals scored so far in 2017 and three 0-3 defeats suffered so far, the FA Cup was currently a welcome distraction as they have so far swept Everton out of the Cup and now they would be welcoming geographical rivals Derby County to the King Power for a replay, just two weeks before the club's biggest game in history at Sevilla in the Champions League. The Rams were unlucky not to have won the original game at Pride Park a couple of weeks back, after a late Wes Morgan goal saved the day and earned this rematch tonight. I managed to grab myself a ticket and get cover at work for the evening (ironically from a Leicester City fan, cheers Jez!), and so my destiny was set to take me from Stafford to Leicester for some cup magic!

Next stop- King Power
I left Stafford at 5:40pm, which would give me just over two hours to make the 90 minute cross-country journey, find somewhere to park, walk to the ground, collect my ticket, and enter. The odds were against me from the start. As I drove down the M1 after cutting across A50, I sat and pondered my pre-match prediction. Derby currently lie in their very familiar place of hovering around the Championship Playoffs and with a steady pace of form they would be hoping to give Leicester a game and maybe even topple them to go through to face Milwall in the Fifth Round. Personally, I expected Leicester to nick it by the odd goal and despite them firing blanks at the moment, I went for 1-0 to the home side knowing that they were likely to rest a few of the underachieving big guns. Continuing on with the journey, I came off the motorway and drove into that wonderfully joyful feeling of being caught in between football traffic and rush-hour near the city centre. For the record, this is the one and only reason why I have no official ambition to do the 92 League grounds- I much prefer arriving at a Midlands Premier League ground where I can park up right outside some muddy old field, grab a beer and enjoy it with time to burn. Today would prove to be a 400 meter sprint to avoid missing the First-Half.

To make matters worse, just as I got into the area near the ground my phone which I was using as a Sat/Nav died of battery. Great start. On the plus side, I do have two phones which I carry around, but on the down side this phone had no data and therefore was useless for giving directions. Because of this unfortunate circumstance, I just drove in the direction of people wearing blue clothing, up until the point that I was right outside the ground amongst thousands of people. The time at this point was 7:30pm and with just 15 minutes to go I quickly made a U-turn amongst taxis, busses and parents dropping kids off to head back out to find a parking space. Sometimes when ground-hopping, the Footballing Gods shine down on you and luckily today was one of those days. I passed signage for "Parking £10" and others for "Park here- £8" and on the first possible turning on to a one-way street I was amazed to find a side of the road parking spot. This spot was one of two that weren't for permit holders, and so I quickly dumped my car in it and ran back to the ground. The time now, 7:40pm.

The queues for ticket collections
I would at this point by struck by a second part of good luck which would ultimately mean that I missed just 4 minutes of the game. I queued anxiously in a line labelled "D-I", which I assumed meant which Tier your ticket was in. As the shortest of the lines diminished quickly I got to the front within minutes before being faced with the man at the counter. As I read out "Tier H" to him, he informed me that the queues were labelled alphabetically in surname, not tier letter. Thankfully he took pity on my lack of knowledge and reached across to grab my ticket. Top lad! I then made a sprint to the gate after passing a load of Derby fans stood outside shouting "Sheep Shag Army" and then made it inside. Phew.

7:49pm, I'm in!
As I took my seat I couldn't help but notice that the fans were already in full-swing chanting their support out to the main man, Claudio Ranieri. I'll be honest, I've always loved the Italian manager and when I think of Chelsea I don't think of Eden Hazard and the Roman billions, I think of Claudio "Tinker Man" Ranieri and the likes of Eidur Gudjohnsen, Mario Melchiot and Carlo Cudicini. They were the best days of football for me and I am so glad that Ranieri managed to lift the Premier League and have a bit of that glory that his previous employers have had. On the pitch the game had started in a tense and slow manner, with the main source of attacking play coming from Ikechi Anya out on the wing for the visitors. He freely took on Leicester's Ghana International right-back Daniel Amartey who only arrived back from the African Cup of Nations at 5:30am today. For Leicester, the main threat in the early stages was from the club's stalwart midfield maestro Andy King who pulled out a couple of good passes out-wide to Marc Albrighton and up towards Ahmed Musa. Neither of them started the game well and it seemed apparent to me from the off that Musa was lacking in confidence, even more so than the rest of the squad. Despite this, the fans were not showing their frustration and they tried every chant in the book to get behind the lads. Never did I think I would be standing up in a football ground in Leicester and singing out loud "we know what we are, we know what we arrrrrre. Champions of England, we know what we are."

Loud and proud- sing your hearts out for the Champs
Amongst the loudest fans in the corner to the left of me, I looked up and spotted my favourite flag of the evening- a big Austrian flag had written on the middle "NO FUCHS GIVEN". On the field the much-rotated Foxes side were struggling with 25 minutes gone. Today's centre-back pairing of debutant Yohan Benalouane and old boy Marcin Wasilewski seemed sturdy enough at defending, but for me they were just trying too hard to be the play-makers. So many times a long ball was hit up to 5ft 5in striker Musa, and they were always gobbled up by Shackell and Keogh. Before half-time, the Foxes changed their approach and managed to utilise the pace of their attackers. Demarai Gray got the ball and whipped in an almost perfect ball in to Musa who out-stretched his foot to be millimetres away from knocking the ball into the net. Unlucky for the hosts, but it was to be 0-0 at half-time.
Time for a beer then
With no goals to boast about as of yet half-time would be a sour place again for Ranieri and his men, but he would undoubtedly be using his Italian passion to gee up his team for the rest of the game. It certainly seemed to work, too, and within just a minute of the second 45 the first goal of the game would be scored by the man himself- the King, the King, Andy, Andy King. The headed effort settled in the goal just as my head appeared from the stairwell into the stands, meaning that I could just about join in with the crowd going wild at the early second-half opener. Leicester 1-0 Derby. That would prove to remain the scoreline until the hour-mark, as a pressing Derby looked to ram their way back into it. With free-kick after free-kick being awarded to the visitors, Derby eventually bagged themselves a goal after Abdoul Camara's set-piece was deflected into the net, sending the away corner into a frenzy of joy. Leicester 1-1 Derby.

It had been all County since the opener
With an upset seemingly on the cards now, County fans broke into the "you're going down" chant, which was quickly responded to be the whole stadium shouting back "you're staying down" and thus silencing the noisy neighbours. As the game started to close-in on Extra Time, both sides looked likely at times to score a winner. At one end, a Derby attacker attempted a scorpion kick which ended up smacking Benalouane on the head- meanwhile the Foxes made a first change of the night and brought Riyad Mahrez on, which perhaps showed Claudio's interest in avoiding extra-time. By this point, Derby were preparing their final change of the night and Steve McClaren threw David Nugent on against the club who he had helped win the Championship back in 2014. Safe to say that he received a standing ovation from the supporters of his former employers and with some big names now on the field we looked set for an entertaining fight to the death during Extra Time. The match could have so easily ended in the last 5 minutes without the need for the added 30 minutes, but Derby were riding out a good final Leicester spell with the help of everyone from the Referee to the goalpost. On 85 minutes, Musa was let free of the County defence and as the ball bobbled outside the area he was met my an on-rushing Jonathan Mitchell in the away goal. Not only did he lose the race to the ball, but he also handled Musa's attempt to chip the ball round him and thankfully for the Keeper he survived without the Ref seeing it. In Musa's outrage he ran over to Mike Jones and vented his anger, to which he was promptly booked for his rightful grievance. Just a minute or so later a Derby defender calmly chested the ball against his own post from 4-yards out and before we knew it, the Ref called a halt ready for Extra Time.

Thankfully I had an aisle seat- getting a bit uncomfortable
Not many of the 29,648 in attendance left for good at this point, and with Islam Slimani and Wilfred Ndidi coming on I could see why. With just four minutes gone in Extra Time, Mahrez played an assertive ball in to Ndidi and he took a couple of touches before releasing a great strike from 20-yards which pelted into the goal via the post. Leicester 2-1 Derby. The chap sat next to me, who hadn't spoken a word all game, turned to me after the kick-off and asked me "why'd they have to get rid of Golden Goal?" to which I just shrugged. With the hosts well and truly in control now, Mahrez and Albrighton started to control things well on the wings and Ndidi in the middle seemed to be a breath of fresh air. Gray continued to be Leicester's best attacking outlet until he provided what would ultimately be the greatest piece of football in the match. Well into the second-half of Extra Time, he turned Keogh inside-out with a twisting run, before out-powering a tracking midfielder and whipping a curled finish into the goal to seal the game for the Premier League Champions. Leicester 3-1 Derby. In truth it could've been four as both Gray and King went close again, as well as Mahrez having a dig from range, but that was to be that and the game would finish after 120+ minutes of FA Cup football. Game over and what an amazing 30 minutes we were treated to in Extra Time.

Why'd you have to leave it that late, Demarai?
With a long drive back to Stoke on my mind, I quickly left the ground after the final whistle and did my best to overtake the slow-moving crowds as they headed down Raw Dykes Road. I soon made it back to my car at the miracle space on Wilberforce Road (hint to any ground-hoppers looking for free evening parking close to the ground). My next encounter is possibly going to be on Monday, as I aim to head up to Manchester to visit Atherton Collieries vs Bootle, which will be followed by a trip to Vale Park on the 18th to see Bristol Rovers visit Port Vale with a couple of my football loving mates. Yes- my schedule is varied.

Check out the official BBC highlights for those two Extra Time wonder goals!

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