Gray shades it for Leicester to ease pressure on Ranieri
Leicester City 3 Derby County 1 (After extra-time)
It’s been quite the week for Leicester City and their manager Claudio Ranieri. Mounting speculation of the sack; a Thai declaration of ‘unwavering support’ for the Italian; rumours of a change in post-match dietary regime (from chicken burgers to pasta); and Ranieri’s impassioned defence of his struggling ‘warriors’.
Hostile and unforgiving, the Premier League holds no punches – not even when it comes to an individual as noteworthy and charismatic as Claudio. With the Foxes now fighting for survival at the bottom of the table, the Leicester history-maker has subsequently found himself backed into a corner, and scrutinised to the point of interrogation.
Ranieri may have insisted prior to last night’s game that there ‘is no crisis’, but the very fact the Srivaddhanaprabha family felt compelled to reaffirm their faith in the Roman suggests otherwise.
Perhaps with this in mind, there was a degree of defiance to Leicester’s performance as Ranieri’s men battled their way past Derby County on a bitterly cold evening at the King Power Stadium to reach the FA Cup fifth round.
It was by no means easy, with the game running into extra-time, but goals from Andy King, substitute Wilfred Ndidi and star man Demarai Gray handed Leicester with a much-needed pick-me-up ahead of Sunday’s Premier League crunch match against Swansea.
With a total of 18 changes made to the two teams from their previous fixtures, it was a replay neither side apparently wanted but the game’s high tempo suggested both teams meant business.
Gray was outstanding in the opening half but the Foxes failed to breach the visitors’ rearguard. But Leicester’s breakthrough came almost instantly after the restart. Picking up the ball on the left, Gray cut inwards, losing his man in the process, to pick out Marc Albrighton at the far post with a well-placed delivery. Craning his neck to make connection, the winger nodded the ball back across the goal to an unmarked King who did the rest from five yards.
Derby refused to roll over and the Rams soon found their equaliser. Striking from 20-odd yards out, Abdoul Camara’s effort took a fortuitous deflection off the outstretched leg of Ben Chilwell.
The Foxes continued to press on after that blow, and although the remaining 30 minutes were largely dictated by the home side, Steve McClaren’s men stood strong.
King came closest with five minutes left of normal time, his headed effort sailing tantalisingly close to Jonathan Mitchell’s right-hand post, and Mitchell avoided a blatant red card moments later for handling the ball outside of his box.
But Leicester’s class shone through in extra-time, with Ndidi and Gray landing the hammer blows as the Foxes finally asserted their dominance.
Picking up play from fellow substitute Riyad Mahrez, Ndidi ran down the centre of Derby’s final third, unleashing a fire-cracker of a shot that caught the inside of the right-hand post before nestling into the opposite side netting.
Gray sealed the deal with six minutes to go, again exhibiting the sort of dizzying foot work that is slowly seeing him morph into Mahrez, and picking out the top right corner with a delicious curled effort to lift the mood around the stadium and club. (© Independent News Service)