I suspect most of us set out today with a sense of trepidation. A defence shipping goals, strong opponents in good form, the bookies making Leicester favourites to win, and not a cloud in the sky to help us out (‘game abandoned’ would have to come from an unlikelier source today). What this all forgets is the footballing gods. We always beat Leicester, and Kermorgant always scores the winner. Why did we ever doubt it?
There were decisions for Sir Chris and his staff to make before the game. Would the switch to 5-3-2 in midweek – which produced apparently a better showing but still saw us shipping three goals – be retained? And just who would get the nod –and why? In the event, we kept the formation, with the absence of Solly bound to fuel rumours that, as Voice of the Valley indicated, a major sale is on the cards. Hamer in goal, Cort, Morrison and Dervite as the central three in defence, Wilson and Wiggins the wing-backs, Stephens, Jackson and Pritchard in central midfield, and Kermorgant and Church up front.
Given that we’d conceded three in half an hour against Doncaster, and three in midweek against Huddersfield in midweek, the relief in the first half was that Leicester didn’t fashion a chance of note. The best they managed was a poor header at the far post. I’d have settled for that. They did probe, and occasionally looked threatening, but they didn’t turn that into chances. By contrast, we had a major weapon: they had no idea how to defend set pieces. So while much of the game was enjoyable and well contested, we carried the greater threat.
The fact that Scheichel couldn’t command his area was apparent from a ball into the box, which he flapped at, resulting in a corner. From that corner the ball was placed a couple of yards off the goal-line and instead of him claiming it Morrison headed into the net. It was one of the simplest set-piece goals you could wish to see. A couple of minutes later they had a long throw into the box which Hamer made a pigs ear of, but the ball was cleared. It seemed at the time like their keeper screwed up and we scored, ours did too but nothing resulted.
That flurry aside, for the neutral in the first half there wasn’t much to write about. Stephens pulled the strings for us – leaving aside the fact that he completely blew a free kick in a decent position - we contained them well, and had exploited our major advantage. It looked if not comfortable reasonably assured. But at the break you felt that the referee’s inclination to flash cards rather than warnings (three yellows in the first half) and the prospect that their manager would have given then a fairly rough time for their failure to fashion chances might both produce a different second period. Both did and the second half saw more chances – at both ends – and a possibly decisive red card. It was also notable that the ref somehow found reason to find two minutes of stoppage time when the trainer hadn’t been on the pitch and no substitutions were made. Why?
Circumstances were to result in a much livelier second half, in terms of chances. That was mixed for us, as basically we just wanted to win the game by seeing out another 45 minutes in the same fashion. The first 10 minutes of the second period said a lot about why we’ve conceded goals too easily this season. Twice they broke forward and all our defenders went towards the ball, leaving their other forward in acres of space. Hamer saved well the first time and somehow we cleared the second, only for the game to be pulled back for something, presumably something said, and their guy was shown a second yellow and a red. Don’t ask me what was the exact reason, but from being under pressure we were given a lifeline.
It got better shortly afterwards as another set piece for us saw Kermorgant peel away to the far post and head strongly into the net. Good movement, great header, but what on earth were Leicester doing? If you can’t defend set pieces you have problems.
Now we’re 2-0 up against 10 men and, with just one point on the board, all we want is the game to be over. That creates pressure of its own and we committed the cardinal sin of letting them back in the game. It was a reasonably well-worked goal, if one against us is possible, and served as a reminder that if the game was played in our half they were still a threat, 10 men or not.
We needed to keep possession, make the extra man count, and see it out. We did manage it, in a got fashion. It would have been a great deal more comfortable with a third goal, but whereas Schemeichel might have problems with crosses when it comes to stopping shots/headers he has certain skills. He pulled off what I have to say I thought at the time was the best save I’ve ever seen in live play, a blinding stop with a strong hand from an effort which I was convinced was a nailed-on goal. He also spread himself to save another effort. As a result we were unable to put the game to bed and had to endure the final 10 minutes or so, with by now Gower and Cousins having replaced Jackson and Stephens, then Pigott replacing Church. It should have been 10 minutes or so, but this time around the announcement was six minutes of stoppage time. Six subs, OK, a bit of time-wasting. But again the trainer hadn’t been on the pitch. Where does six minutes come from?
We did see it out and the victory is massive. The mood of late has been downbeat, for reasons on and off the pitch, and grabbing three points from a game that the bookies had us down to lose feels just fine. It wasn’t perfect, don’t ask me exactly why their guy was sent off, and things could have turned out differently. But getting that first victory on the board is massive. Can we play them every week?
Hamer: 7/10 – Deserves praise for his saves early in the second half when the game was in the balance; but flapped at a throw-in which might have cost us in the first.
Wilson: 7/10. Decent enough game. If Solly’s going we’re going to need him as wing-back or outright full-back.
Morrison: 8/10. Give the guy the credit. He looked poor against Doncaster but rallied today, scored, and kept them at bay. As a response to a bad performance that’s just what you want.
Cort: 7/10. Concentrated on the basics and did them well. The defence today protected Hamer well.
Dervite: 7/10. He too did the basics well – and that’s what we needed.
Wiggins: 8/10. Some interceptions today were superb and cut out dangerous moments. Still seems to be finding his way back to form but this was progress.
Jackson: 7/10. Not especially influential – and did fail to convert a decent chance by shooting over the bar. But steady and reliable.
Stephens: 8/10. In this formation he had the chance to shine and did what was needed, keeping the game ticking over and picking decent passes. Definitely encouraging.
Pritchard: 7/10. Excellent work rate, always involved. Perhaps didn’t always convert good positions into something better going forward.
Church: 7/10. Impressive again with his movement and ability to fashion chances. Worked hard.
Kermorgant: 7/10. Of course he scored the winner again against Leicster. Might have had more but for Schmeichel.
Subs: Gower (7/10 – came on to refresh midfield when we just wanted to see the game out and did well enough); Cousins (7/10 – much the same); Pigott (7/10 – only on for stoppage time).