Birmingham City were knocked out of the FA Cup on Wednesday night, after losing 1-0 to Premier League side Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Ricardo Pereira’s headed past Lee Camp with less than 10 minutes to play, which was enough for the Foxes to progress to the quarter-finals after dominating the encounter right from the off.
Blues – unbeaten in their last 13 games in all competitions – would have been hoping to take a break from their impressive league form, and attempt to pull off a real cup upset against a side pushing for Champions League qualification this term.
This was a clash that Brendan Rodgers knew was of great significance to Leicester fans, and that showed in his team selection. The likes of James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Kasper Schmeichel and Caglar Soyuncu all keeping their places in the starting line-up to face Birmingham.
It was Maddison who caused Pep Clotet’s side problems in the early stages, with the midfielder feeding Dennis Praet inside the area on five minutes, but strong defending from Kristian Pedersen ensured he wouldn’t get a shot away.
Maddison saw an effort curl just over the bar two minutes later, whilst Chilwell also threatened to find the net, flashing the ball across the box and narrowly past the post after a slight deflection.
But Blues gave a timely reminder of the threat they could cause if given chance – a rapid counter-attack unleashed Lukas Jutkiewicz down the right on 11 minutes; his ball into the area found Scott Hogan, whose layoff was met by a thunderous effort by Kerim Mrabti which deflected wide.
Leicester dominated possession and saw nearly 75% of the ball heading into the half-time interval, but there was to be no shot on target from the hosts in the opening 45 minutes.
The home side found themselves getting into plenty of dangerous positions in the final third, but their passing wasn’t quite slick enough to break down and unlock a resilient Blues defence.
Maddison saw plenty of the ball, twisting and turning inside the area before Camp had to deal with a teasing cross-cum-shot with a strong punch away from goal.
That was to be the end of the half, though, as Jonathan Moss blew the half-time whistle. Plenty for the hosts to do, then, if they were going to avoid extra-time and penalties and have fresh legs for Monday’s home clash with Aston Villa.
Rodgers’ side began to reapply the pressure straight after the whistle to mark the beginning of the first-half. Maddison’s corner was rolled into Albrighton, whose first-time cross found Jonny Evans at the back stick – the centre-half could only head over the bar, though.
Another Albrighton delivery from the right caused havoc 60 seconds later, this time Chilwell found himself on the receiving end of a cross, but he poked an effort narrowly wide of Camp’s goal.
You sensed that something was coming for the hosts, and on the hour mark, Rodgers began to ring the changes, with Youri Tielemans replacing Wilfred Ndidi, and Harvey Barnes replacing Demarai Gray.
The cogs continued to turn for Leicester after that – they played with more fluidity and tempo through the middle. Maddison was inches away from opening the scoring on 67 minutes too, but even though his powerful left-footed effort took a slight deflection, it rattled the crossbar from 25 yards.
Clotet knew that his side would have to get a foothold back in the game sooner rather than later, with the Spaniard making his first change of the evening soon after – Gary Gardner replacing Wes Harding.
Leicester did find the net with 15 minutes left to play, but after latching onto a through ball, Iheanacho was adjudged to be offside before rounding Camp and slotting home – VAR confirming that it was a correct call.
The Foxes were averaging nearly 79% of the ball at this point, but they finally made their pressure count on 82 minutes. There were plenty of moans and groans directed at Marc Albrighton after he gave the ball away in a dangerous position on halfway, but the winger went on to grab an assist upon his return to the side.
He got to the byline, teed up a cross, and there was Pereira who got enough on the ball to flick a header past Camp – finally a breakthrough for the hosts, who replaced Maddison with Hamza Choudhury moments after.
Clotet made a double change in response to that goal, with wide-men Dan Crowley and Jefferson Montero coming on to add width and speed to the attack, replacing Mrabti and Maikel Kieftenbeld.
With three minutes added on at the end of the tie, Lukas Jutkiewicz was presented with a chance to score his 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions, but after strong running by Kristian Pedersen, he fired an effort well over the bar.
Blues did have one final chance in added time. The lively Montero soaring down the line, before whipping in a cross which found its way to Harlee Dean – the defender’s goal-bound volley cleared at the death.
And that was to be that, as Jonathan Moss blew an end to what turned out to be a frantic end to a cup tie. A big win for Leicester, as they progress to the quarter-finals after dominating the ball throughout.
Over 5,000 Birmingham fans applauded their team off at the final whistle after watching their side defend resolutely, before falling to Pereira’s header right at the end.
FULL TIME: Leicester City 1-0 Birmingham City