Kelechi Iheanacho spares Leicester's FA Cup blushes against valiant Walsall
It wasn’t wholly straightforward, but it was deserved. Leicester City ground their way into the last 16 of the FA Cup by virtue of a deflected strike from substitute and tournament specialist Kelechi Iheanacho, his 17th Cup goal in 23 ties.
“Kelechi will get more game time,” said Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager. “When he gets a chance, he takes it, so he’s a very effective player. He trains well every day and he just loves his football.”
Hovering in the middle of League Two, Walsall were guaranteed to offer pluck, but in the end class told.
With Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Pérez injured, Rodgers plumped for a Premier League XI and encouragingly for the rest of their season, James Maddison started for the first time since limping off at West Ham before the World Cup.
Walsall head coach Michael Flynn admitted Leicester were superior, “but we were great. Hopefully we can go on and do great things in the league. We’ve got the makings of a good thing here.”
The home side were all Sturm und Drang, but Leicester held their nerve and waited for the storm to abate. When it did, they had their chances and by the end of the first half Leicester were on top, although Patson Daka’s prodigal finishing meant they lacked breathing space.
No matter, Leicester had a penalty two minutes into the second when Daka was bundled over just inside the box Tielemans’ penalty was low, hard and true, but it struck the inside of the post and rebounded to safety. That miss galvanised both teams. At one end sole striker Andy Williams hooked over Walsall’s best chance, but then Leicester took control. The excellent Owen Evans saved smartly from Harvey Barnes and smarter still from Daka after the goalkeeper had parried Tielemans’ screamer.
Tielemans misses from the spot 🤯#EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/qkRo2Dsz7P
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 28, 2023
Iheanacho, scorer of the third round winner at Gillingham, soon replaced Daka and, six minutes into his cameo, repeated the trick when Nampalys Mendy found him on the edge of the area. The Nigerian curled the ball over Evans with the aid of a deflection off Brandon Comley’s backside. “I could take a 30-yard piledriver putting us out, but it was going wide,” lamented Flynn.
From there, Leicester were not going to let their lead slip. Iheanacho might have had a second too after Dennis Praet robbed Liam Gordon, but Evans distinguished himself once again and a last 16 berth was theirs.
Walsall vs Leicester City: As it happened
I hate being 'that kind of fan', but we're scraping through here vs a mid-table #LeagueTwo team.
This performance vs anything even approaching Prem standard and we'd be getting battered.
Really hope Rodgers doesn't try to sell this as a 'corner turned' post-match. #LCFC #WALLEI
— Joe Green - Financial Opinion Provider (@JoeTGreen) January 28, 2023
Loving Kristiansen's debut, had a high aggresion and potentially huge shot power. Need to work on progressive passing and he's perfect. #LCFC
— Ade 🇳🇬 | top OUT (@LCFCLookman) January 28, 2023
FT - Walsall 0-1 Leicester
The boys did themselves proud.
Bigger fish to fry in the league. Promotion push begins.
— Vital Wal$all (@VitalWalsall) January 28, 2023
FULL TIME: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
All over. Leicester are in the hat for the fifth round. Sub Iheanacho is the hero in the end.
But a great effort from the League 2 side!
90+4mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Wilkinson takes it with his left foot but his strike was always curling wide.
90+3mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Foul by Tielemans around 25 yards out. Final chance for Walsall.
90mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Four minutes added on.
89mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Iheanacho skies a shot high and wide. Really poor effort.
88mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Nearly an assist on debut for Kristiansen. He plays a one-two with Dewsbury-Hall, who scuffs a shot wide of the post.
87mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Iversen spills a header from Maher but collects it on the second attempt.
84mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Another Leicester pull back and Iheanacho shoots first time but Evans makes a great reaction block.
82mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Dewsbury-Hall does excellently to break away and reach the Walsall box. He cuts the ball back to Tielemans, who backheels to Barnes but his shot is blocked by Songo'o.
80mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Final Walsall changes:
Willmott and Maddox off - Maher and Allen on
78mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Walsall yet to seriously test Iversen in the Leicester goal and they are running out of time.
74mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
Comley off, James-Taylor on
71mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City
On the balance of play, Leicester deserve to be in the lead. Walsall have barely got out of their half since the break.
68mins: Walsall 0-1 Leicester City GOAL Iheanacho
Deadlock broken and it is a big stroke of luck for the away side.
Iheanacho finds himself in too much space outside the box, he takes a shot that hits Comley and flies past Ward in the Walsall goal.
64mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Iheanacho already making a difference. He breaks away and shoots at goal but the ball is well held by Evans.
62mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Two Walsall changes:
Williams and Hutchinson off - Wilkinson and Songo'o on
Three Leicester changes:
Thomas, Daka, Maddison off - Kristiansen, Iheanacho and Praet on
58mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Leicester are dominating but so far unable to make the breakthrough. How long till Iheanacho comes on?
55mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Stunning double stop from Evans in the Walsall goal. First Tielemans shoots from distance again and the shot is parried. Daka races onto the rebound but Evans gets up and makes the block to deny him again.
52mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Brilliant recovery tackle by Daniels to deny Dewsbury-Hall a shot at goal. Frantic start to the half.
48mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City PENALTY MISSED
Tielemans takes it but his low effort hits the inside of the post and rebounds away to safety.
Big let off for the home side.
47mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City PENALTY
Daka is fouled inside the box by Hutchinson. It looks like the ref points for a free kick but eventually changes his mind seemingly.
46mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Not much off the bench if Leicester want to change things. With Jamie Vardy unavailable, only Albrighton and Iheanacho are the senior attacking players.
Second half: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
We're back under way. No changes made by either team.
Half Time 0-0. Leicester enjoyed more possession and shots but haven't made it count whilst Walsall look dangerous on counter.#Saddlers #WFC
— Paul Jenkins (@PaulJ_Star) January 28, 2023
Daka isn’t a vardy replacement is he? Poor lads miles off it 😬😬 #LCFC
— Mark (@Coxxy1884) January 28, 2023
LCFC lacking quality against vibrant League 2 opposition again just like at Gillingham in the last round. Doesn’t surprise me at all, Amartey having a mare, things can only get better in the 2nd half, can they ? @LCFC #LCFC @BBCRLSport
— ruds72 (@rudfoxes0205) January 28, 2023
HALF TIME: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Nothing to separate the two teams. Leicester have had all the possession but lacked quality in the final third.
Credit to Walsall, who have risen to the occasion.
45mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Two minutes added on.
43mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Approaching half-time. Remains goalless with Walsall standing firm and forcing Leicester into mistakes.
39mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Low and Daka are OK to continue.
37mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Clash of heads between Daka and Low. Both in need of treatment.
36mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Another chance for Daka. He turns just inside the box and shoots over. Sharp movement but lacking the clinical edge.
35mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Ironic jeers from the home fans as Maddison beats his man twice before shooting over.
33mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
'Shut your face Maddison' screams a fan as he holds up a Walsall free-kick to moan about where it is taken.
The England international is not popular it seems
30mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Nice one and two-touch football by Leicester. Tielemans finds Daka in the box but he's closed down before he can get a clean shot at goal.
28mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Daka collects the ball at the front post and lashes a shot straight across goal. Should have done better.
26mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Good game so far, super competitive. White is booked by the ref for a foul on Dewsbury-Hall.
24mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Barnes slices across the ball with a sight of goal at the far post. Should have done better there.
22mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
It is not an FA Cup match if balloons aren't on the pitch.
20mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Williams took a knock earlier and doesn't appear to have shaken it off. Walsall braced to make an early sub.
16mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Maddison breaks away through the centre, he tries to play a pass to Barnes but the ball goes out of play. He is caught by Willmott and goes down.
Maddison thinks he was fouled. The ref thinks otherwise. Maddison continues to protest and is booked.
14mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Castagne is adjudged to have fouled Daniels on the far. Leicester players are bemused but the referee Gavin Ward is unmoved.
12mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Tielemans is well capable of hitting the target from distance but he gets this effort all wrong as the ball goes high into the stands.
9mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Chance for Leicester as Castagne crosses for Daka but his header is wide of the target
8mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Leicester's quality starting to tell as Maddison begins to get on the ball. Walsall can't get the ball to their striker at the minute.
4mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Really confident opening by the League 2 side. Passing the ball around nicely with Leicester happy to sit off them.
Maddison goes down after a hefty tackle but is OK to carry on.
1mins: Walsall 0-0 Leicester City
Nearly an unbelievable start by Walsall. Faes' clearance is closed down and the home side get on the front foot straight away and attack Leicester.
Fortunately the Premier League side eventually get the ball clear.
KICK OFF: Walsall vs Leicester City
Leicester get the match under way.
Breaking Leicester transfer news from John Percy and Mike McGrath
Leicester are closing in on their second January signing with the capture of Lyon winger Tete.
The Brazilian is undergoing a medical on Saturday after an agreement was struck to terminate his contract at Lyon.
Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester manager, has been determined to recruit a right-winger in this transfer window and the club is increasingly confident of signing Tete in the next 48 hours.
Tete missed training at Lyon on Friday before receiving the green light to fly to England for talks with Leicester officials this morning.
The 22-year-old has scored six goals in 17 appearances this season for the Ligue 1 club.
Leicester have already signed FC Copenhagen defender Victor Kristiansen in a deal which could be worth a total £17.5 million.
Rodgers is also targeting a centre-back before the window closes on Tuesday night. Leicester have made inquiries about Stoke's Australia international Harry Souttar.
Here come the teams!
Great noise around the Poundland Bescot Stadium as the players come out of the tunnel for this fourth round match.
Former Walsall manager Dean Smith returns
👋 It's great to see Dean Smith back at the @Poundland Bescot Stadium supporting #Saddlers in the @EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/sJKxNbqExl
— Walsall FC Official (@WFCOfficial) January 28, 2023
The magic of the cup
A welcome sight for Leicester fans
Walsall: Evans, White, Daniels, Low, Willmott, Comley, Hutchinson, Maddox, Gordon, Williams, Knowles.
Subs: Songo'o, Smith, Riley, Wilkinson, James-Taylor, McEntee, Allen, Maher.
Leicester: Iversen, Castagne, Amartey, Faes, Thomas, Tielemans, Mendy, Dewsbury-Hall, Maddison, Daka, Barnes.
Subs: Soyuncu, Albrighton, Smithies, Iheanacho, Kristiansen, Vestergaard, Praet, Brunt, Braybrooke.
Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey)
Can revitalised Walsall upset struggling Leicester?
Good afternoon and welcome to FA Cup weekend. And today we kick off with Walsall against Leicester. Will we see a giantkilling?
Walsall co-chairman Leigh Pomlett is certainly hoping so and believes the Saddlers are finally a united club.
A takeover by American investors the Trivela Group has helped transform the club, who also bought their ground from former owner Jeff Bonser last month.
Walsall's resurgence on the pitch under boss Michael Flynn has them four points behind the top seven in League Two, with two games in hand, after he replaced Matt Taylor 11 months ago with the club 18th.
They have lost just twice in the league since September and facing the faltering Foxes represents a chance to show a wider audience their revival.
"It was a fractured club (when Pomlett joined the board in 2010). Jeff would argue differently but it's a much happier place to be than it was then," said Pomlett.
"Trivela have been very sensitive to the relationship with the fans.
"Since I joined the board the ambition of the club has changed and the ability to realise that ambition, rather than having ambition without any substance to actually achieve it.
"Beating Leicester, there is a slim chance but there is a chance."
Last summer's takeover marked a new, promising era for the club after years of stagnation and relegation to League Two, with the backdrop of a fractured and disenchanted fanbase.
In December the club also bought the freehold of the stadium to end their rent payments - around £500,000 a year - to former owner Bonser.
"I made it a prerequisite that you cannot buy a single share from me unless you were prepared to, or you had the ability to, buy the stadium," said Pomlett.
"I wasn't interested in talking to anybody, literally not interested talking to anybody, that wouldn't agree to facilitate the purchase of the stadium.
"You're spending half a million a year and for what? You'd never own the stadium. Now we do.
"When I took over from the previous regime I said I'd get us out of League Two, get the stadium back and then I'm done.
"I will have put the club into very safe hands and it will be in at least League One as far as I'm concerned.
"As Ben takes over more and more and he understands English football then I can sail off into the sunset, knowing the club is in good shape.
"We're sustainable, if you're losing millions or an owner like me pumping millions in that's not a sustainable business model.
"Sometimes you have to irritate the supporters because you can't do the things they want you to do but your mindset is as a custodian of the club, to make sure you leave it in better shape than when you took it over.
"I just think some of the ways that football clubs are run is madness. We're ambitious in a sustainable way, we won't rush out and suddenly spend 10 grand a week on a League Two player.
"That's probably an extreme but clubs are spending £5,000 or £6,000 a week on very average players. It's just mind-bogglingly stupid and totally unnecessary."