Heading into’s Wednesday’s English League Cup semifinal first leg at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium, Aston Villa didn’t seem to have much of a chance. After all, Villa is just a few short months into its return to the Premier League, having spent the last three years toiling in the second tier, and sits just one place above the relegation zone.
Meantime, the Foxes are in the middle of their best season since overcoming 5,000-1 odds to win the Prem in 2016, currently in second place behind league leaders Liverpool.
But Cup games have a funny way of not sticking to the script. And for a long time during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw, it looked as though Villa might actually eke out a win at the King Power and take a slim aggregate lead back to Villa Park for the decider later in the month.
With a trip to Wembley on the line, Villa struck first blood. The opening goal came against the run of play via French fullback Frederic Guilbert in the 28th minute. There was no need for the hosts to worry at that point. Manager Brendan Rodgers trotted out a close to full-strength lineup led by veterans Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Fuchs, James “President” Maddison, Ben Chilwell and star striker Jamie Vardy, who returned to Rodgers’ starting XI after missing three games because of a calf injury and the birth of his fifth child.
Yet the match got to halftime with the visitors still in the lead. And despite relentless pressure from the Foxes, to whom the Villans were only too happy to give the ball as they packed into a defensive shell, it stayed that way well into the second half.
Finally, with less than 20 minutes to play, Villa handed the home team its equalizer. Following a failed free kick for the guests, substitute Kelechi Iheanacho broke down the center of the field before beating two defenders inside Villa’s box and blasting a left-footed drive past Orjan Nyland in the away goal:
That solitary goal was all Rodgers’ men could manage. Despite outshooting Aston Villa 20-3 and controlling more than 70 percent of the possession, Villa held firm defensively outside of their one sloppy mistake. And while it was a draw that surely felt like a loss to coach Dean Smith and his team, the reality is that Smith and Co. would’ve taken that result beforehand.
Now, victory at home on Jan. 28 will be enough to put them into the March 1 final, where the chance to hoist a trophy for the first time since 1996 would await.
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