Jamie Vardy watched from the stands as his former side Fleetwood Town held Premier League Leicester City to a valiant draw at Highbury Stadium to earn a replay in their FA Cup third-round tie.
The Leicester striker was left out of the visiting squad after failing to recover from a groin injury in time to face his former club and in his absence there was a distinct lack of cutting edge around goal.
Andy King came closest for the Premier League side in a scrappy opening half, heading over from a corner, whilst Aleksander Dragovic’s back-pass very nearly ended up in his own net at the other end.
There wasn’t too much in the way of clear chances after the break either, although it was the hosts who looked more likely to snatch a winner when Ashley Hunter flashed some crosses across the box.
And it was Hunter who nearly earnt a dramatic injury-time win when his deflected effort from on the edge of the area hit the post and rebounded into the grateful arms of Leicester goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic, and now the two sides will meet again at the King Power with the fourth-round at stake.
Vardy watches on as Leicester fail to inspire
Considering that the heightened build-up to Saturday’s third-round tie revolved around Jamie Vardy’s return to where it all began, it was a bit of an anti-climax when his absence from the Foxes’ matchday squad was confirmed an hour before kick-off.
Fleetwood Town was the place where the England striker’s fairy-tale story began back in 2011, scoring 34 goals in 42 games to help secure promotion to the Football League and taking the then non-league side to the FA Cup third-round for the first time in his only season at Highbury Stadium.
In truth it was always a race against time to be deemed fit to face his former side and, on balance, Leicester boss Claude Puel was wise not to risk his star forward – even if it was disappointing news for the footballing neutral and the home supporters.
As such Vardy watched on from the stands as a second-string Leicester side struggled to gain a foothold against their lower-ranked opposition, failing to have any sort of pace or tempo all game.
The fact that the Premier League side didn’t muster a single shot on target in the 90 minutes tells its own tale and Fleetwood goalkeeper Chris Neal wouldn’t have had many afternoons as quiet as this one over the past few months of the season.
It could have been far worse considering how much Fleetwood pushed late on, and manager Claude Puel will surely ring the necessary changes for the replay to ensure his team avoid any FA Cup upset.
Silva struggles on Leicester bow
Despite naming an under-strength starting eleven for the trip to Highbury, there was reason for Leicester fans to get excited as it offered the chance to see Adrien Silva start for the very first time.
The Portuguese international’s transfer from Sporting Lisbon has been well-documented over the past few months – with the move being denied over the summer due to necessary paperwork submitted 14 seconds late – but as the January window opened the move was able to be completed.
After making his Leicester bow as a second-half substitute in the 3-0 win at Huddersfield last time out he was given his full debut by boss Puel at the heart of the midfield, but he found it tough going.
It’s unlikely that Silva would have experienced anything like the Highbury pitch during his Sporting days but he was largely anonymous, not making any meaningful contribution either offensively or defensively and on the whole he was outshone by the performance of Fleetwood midfielder Markus Schwabl.
The fact that he was withdrawn on the hour mark after picking up a knock summed up his whole afternoon, and he’ll hope to set the record straight when Fleetwood come to town for the replay.
He wasn’t alone though, and aside from a few bursts down the left-hand side from the lively Demarai Gray over the course of the game there was little for the Foxes to get excited about.
Islam Slimani carried Leicester’s attacking hopes yet only managed 24 touches all game whilst even Shinji Okazaki and Marc Albrighton couldn’t impose themselves when coming on as late substitutes.
Fleetwood more than hold their own in historic tie
There may well have been 49 places and two divisions between the two sides prior to kick-off but you would not have been able to tell after Fleetwood Town put on a determined and gritty display.
The League One side’s route to the third-round hadn’t been without its troubles, needing to come from behind to see off non-league outfit Chorley in injury-time in their first-round tie, and the prospect of facing Premier League opposition for the first ever time was a potentially daunting one.
But Uwe Rosler’s side showed no sign of being over-awed by their opponents, drawing them into a scrappy affair on a pitch that certainly served as a leveller between themselves and the 2015/16 Premier League champions.
It wouldn’t be untrue to say that the hosts were the better team on the day too, weathering an extended period of Leicester possession during the first-half before upping the tempo on the hour mark and taking the game to the visitors.
One man at the forefront of their efforts was Ashley Hunter, labelled the ‘new Vardy’, and the 22-year-old showed where his nickname has come from with a number of blistering runs on the wings.
His acceleration and drive provided a glimpse of quality in a fairly drab affair and he was merely inches away from being the hero of the day when his effort in the dying moments hit the upright.
Leicester will undoubtedly prove to be a different proposition on their home turf when the replay occurs over the next few weeks but, on Saturday’s showing, Fleetwood will travel there with hope.
Five FA Cup third round ties to look forward to
The FA Cup third round is one of the most anticipated weekends of the footballing calendar and the draw was made for this season’s competition on Monday night.
It was an intriguing draw with four of five fixtures that stand out as great matches and there will be a lot of options for the television companies.
Arsenal are the current holders of the competition and they will be looking to retain their trophy.
However, Manchester City look to be the best team in the country and they remain in the hunt for the quadruple. Based on their current form, they are the overwhelming favourites to win the FA Cup.
Here are five third round ties to look forward to…
Liverpool vs Everton
This was the mouthwatering tie of the round, as the two Merseyside clubs meet at Anfield. They face each other in the Premier League this weekend and this draw means that the bragging rights will be up for grabs again in a month’s time.
Jurgen Klopp will be looking to win his first trophy of his Liverpool career and this competition could offer his best chance in doing that. Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce will want to win his first major honour as a manager and has his best chance with Everton.
There is a lot to play for in this match and it will make for a great spectacle for the neutral.
Brighton and Hove Albion vs Crystal Palace
Although it is one of the weirder rivalries in English football, these two clubs have a storied history and this tie will be one to watch out for.
They have met once already this season as the two sides finished goalless at the Amex Stadium. However, there was crowd trouble and the local police won’t have been pleased when they were drawn to face each other again in the FA Cup.
This will be a physical affair and a loss for either team would be have a damaging effect on their morale ahead of what is likely a relegation fight for both clubs.
Tottenham vs AFC Wimbledon
This will be a great occasion for the League One club as they get the opportunity to play at Wembley against Tottenham.
Their climb up the pyramid has been a story that has caught the attention of the country and this match will serve as the latest landmark in their ascent. They famously won the FA Cup in the 1988 season in their earlier guise and the supporters will be delighted to be back at the national stadium.
For Spurs, there is a lot of pressure on Mauricio Pochettino to win a trophy and another failure in the FA Cup will be a disappointment.
Fleetwood Town or Hereford United vs Leicester City
There will be a lot of neutrals hoping that Hereford United manage to make it to the third round, due to their history in the competition.
They famously beat Newcastle United in the 1972 competition in what was one of the biggest shocks of all-time. It is a rare occurrence for a non-league team to beat top-flight opposition and Ronnie Radford’s goal is replayed countless times every year.
They competed well in their first match against Fleetwood Town and earned a credible draw.
Leicester City are recent winners of the Premier League and it would be a great spectacle if it is to be Hereford that make the third round.
Middlesbrough vs Sunderland
Sunderland fans would have been hoping to avoid a local derby against Newcastle United and they managed to do that, but they are set to face another North East in Middlesbrough.
They are both in the Championship now and struggling to bounce back from relegation during the 2016/17 season. The Black Cats are hoping that Chris Coleman will be the manager to rebuild the club, but it is a tough ask.
Neither team will really want to be in the competition, but they won’t want to be knocked out by a rival. This should be a fiercely contested affair at the Riverside Stadium.
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