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.