Morgan's late header keeps Leicester in the FA Cup and thwarts Derby
DERBY, England -- Three thoughts on Derby and Leicester's 2-2 draw in the FA Cup fourth round. The tie will be decided in a replay at the King Power Stadium.
1. Leicester earn late reprieve
With a relegation battle in full flow and the Champions League about to return, the last thing Leicester City needed was another game to clog their schedule.
Still, the alternative was being dumped out of the FA Cup by a local rival and so, in that respect, they will be grateful for Wes Morgan's header, which salvaged a 2-2 draw against Derby County.
For long spells Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri cut a disconsolate figure on the sidelines because, despite his side taking the lead through a comical Darren Bent own goal, the Championship side led for 46 minutes after Bent redeemed himself with the equaliser and Craig Bryson steered home a second.
For Leicester this was another flat performance, but they will at least be able to take some sort of encouragement after rescuing themselves from disaster. They desperately needed some sort of distraction from their league form and that was reflected in Ranieri's team selection.
He named a side very similar to that which won them the Premier League last season, with only the departed N'Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, on the bench after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, absent from the starting XI.
Leicester took the lead after just eight minutes, in slapstick fashion. From Marc Albrighton's corner, Robert Huth mistimed a header that deflected off Derby right-back Chris Baird.
Bent, a striker "helping out" in defence, seemed to have time enough to clear from just in front of the line, but only managed to slice the ball into his own net. Sometimes the most basic comedy is the funniest.
Bent was the one laughing 12 minutes later, though. A Derby corner was only half-cleared and fell to Will Hughes who clipped a delicate cross into the middle, from where Bent glanced a header beyond Kasper Schmeichel.
Derby then took the lead five minutes before half-time. A loose ball fell to midfielder Bryson on the edge of the Leicester area and he skipped around one challenge before guiding a left-footed shot into the corner. It was a fine finish, but the visitors' defence was static and Schmeichel gave an enormous target to aim at.
Ranieri made changes after the break as Leicester searched for salvation, bringing on the assorted attacking talents of Mahrez, Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa. It worked to an extent, in that they had plenty of the ball at the Derby end, but the breakthrough would not come.
Okazaki had three chances in the space of a few minutes in the early stages of the second half but, as the game progressed, Leicester looked more and more frustrated.
At one point Ranieri and Vardy had an animated conversation, the manager trying to impart the wisdom required to turn the game around. In the end, the striker ran away shrugging. Whatever the message was, it wasn't getting across, as Leicester's play showed.
Finally, though, they broke through with four minutes remaining. Gray's corner was whipped in from the left and there was captain Morgan to head in and save embarrassment.
Derby felt they should have had a penalty shortly afterwards when substitute Abdoul Camara hit a shot against Ben Chilwell's arm, but nothing was given. They will try again at Leicester in the replay.
2. Confidence still lacking for Leicester
After some variation to their formation in recent weeks, as Ranieri desperately looks for something to turn their season around, Leicester returned to the 4-4-1-1 that was so successful last term, with Okazaki tucking in behind Vardy.
However, Derby were happy to let Leicester have the ball -- they had nearly 62 perecent possession overall -- and to sit deep and not leave any room behind their backline.
When facing a team full of confidence, handing over possession can be a very dangerous game, but Leicester's tentative, nervy demeanour very much reflected their season overall.
As such, Steve McClaren's side could simply capitalise on the Foxes' form by giving them the opportunity to make mistakes. Leicester's players look terrified of their own shadows at the moment; seeking to take advantage of that was a smart move by their hosts.
3. Derby impress under McClaren
When McClaren returned to Derby for a second spell as manager in October, they were 20th in the Championship and had won just two games all season; the brief experiment with Nigel Pearson as manager ending in a disagreement with chairman Mel Morris and a parting of ways.
Now, the Pride Park club are on the fringes of the playoffs, scoring goals and, by virtue of this draw, in the hat for the fifth round of the FA Cup. Bringing back McClaren, who had been sacked a little over a year earlier following a late-season collapse and a flirtation with the Newcastle job, looked like a huge risk but it is paying off so far.
McClaren's career remains a constant curiosity. There seems to be little in the middle with the former England boss; either success or calamity has followed him from FC Twente, to Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest, to Derby the first time, and Newcastle last season, who were on the way to relegation when he left.
He is clearly an excellent coach and Derby's players have talked on a number of occasions this season about how he has improved them and perhaps that is the key.
Many of those who have impressed in the last few months were with McClaren during his first spell; the likes of Hughes, Bryson and Tom Ince have been terrific and were their key men against Leicester.
Derby are still 14 points away from the automatic promotion places and they must end their habit of finding new and creative ways to make a mess of things at the end of seasons.
But, on Friday night, McClaren's men showed why we could be seeing them in the top flight next season.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.