If this was to be the final game in charge of the First Team for caretaker bosses Mark Lillis and Steve Eyre, it was one to remember as an inexperienced and depleted Terriers progressed to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup thanks to a tremendous win at Leicester City.
You could get 8-1 on a Town win at the bookmakers ahead of the game, but Town defied the odds to produce an incredibly disciplined performance with an attacking edge – topped by superb goals for Adam Clayton and Sean Scannell either side of an equaliser from Michael Keane.
Town were in part forced into fielding a young team, missing first team regulars such as Peter Clarke, Joel Lynch and Lee Novak through injury; Jermaine Beckford and Neil Danns were ineligible to play against their parent club whereas Jack Hunt, Oliver Norwood and James Vaughan were given a rest among the substitutes.
Sadly goalkeeper Alex Smithies was also absent due to a bereavement in the family, so 41 year-old Ian Bennett stepped into to make his first start of the season – his 550th in total.
In the first half of Town’s New Year’s Day defeat at the same venue the Terriers were completely overrun, but this time Mark Lillis and Steve Eyre had set their team up brilliantly. Sinnott, Clayton and Arfield all sat in midfield with Atkinson and Scannell supporting Alan Lee to good effect.
Town also carried a threat going forward – and took the lead in the fourth minute. The experienced Lee invited a challenge from behind from home skipper Wes Morgan and when it came, the referee had no choice than to award the free kick. Up stepped Adam Clayton – and he made no mistake in firing a precise shot into the top left corner of a despairing Kasper Schmeichel’s goal for his fifth of the season!
Sadly it didn’t take the hosts long to reply. Paul Gallagher’s shot took hit Wallace before dipping just over Bennett’s bar and although the initial header was blocked from Anthony Knockaert’s delivery, home defender Michael Keane reacted to sweep the rebound home left footed from around 12 yards out. That was the Manchester United loanee’s first senior goal.
Although Leicester had good spells of possession, the young Town side didn’t lack confidence or discipline and were well worth the level scoreline going into the interval. The home fans became increasingly frustrated as the half progressed as the Terriers provided much sterner resistance than on their previous visit to Leicestershire.
At the other end confident youngster Sinnott had a shot blocked whilst teammate Atkinson fired a snapshot tamely wide after a deflected ball fell at his feet, whereas the best Leicester could muster was a couple of decent but hopeful long range efforts from Gallagher.
In fact, Town had an excellent period of pressure in the closing minutes of the first half. Arfield fired over from 25 yards after an excellent direct run down the left from Scannell and that seemed to boost the former Crystal Palace man, who had done a job for his side in shadowing marauding Foxes right back Ritchie De Laet.
‘Scanz’ took the attack to the defender, first winning his side a free kick that eventually ended with Paul Dixon forcing Schmeichel into action low to his left side – probably the closest the Scottish international has come to breaking his Town duck thus far.
Scannell went it alone next time, jinking past De Laet brilliantly to enter the penalty area – only to blast his resulting shot right in the face of centre back Morgan.
The second half started in similar fashion, with Town competing against their hosts. Clayton had another free kick chance ten minutes in but struck the wall shortly after Arfield’s mixed up feet wasted a fantastic opportunity for Town on the edge of the box with men over.
Then Leicester turned the screw for the first time in the game with 25 minutes left – but a defence led superbly by Gerrard stood firm. The skipper did brilliantly to block a useful shot from the left from England international Nugent before Bennett clutched a close range header from the same player after good work down the left from Konchesky.
Just as the hosts pushed, Town countered through Scannell again. The winger showed power to out-muscle Knockaert and enter the area before playing a square pass to Arfield, but Schmeichel acrobatically tipped the ball over the bar.
Knockaert’s magical feet were much more use at the other end and he picked out Futacs sublimely in the area, but the big striker – who had not had the best game – completely missed his kick and the chance was gone.
Town threatened at the other end minutes later, with substitute James Vaughan finding Atkinson with a knock-down in the area. The midfielder tried to round the goalkeeper, but drove the ball too wide and the chance was gone.
Scannell had been a danger all evening – and scored a tremendous goal with a quarter of an hour remaining to put the Terriers ahead for the second time in the game. Sub Ollie Norwood’s drilled long range pass was perfect for the speed merchant to run onto, but he showed amazing strength and ability to hold off and round James and Konchesky to get goal side before sliding the ball home from a very narrow angle.
Town battled in the final stages of the game, with sensible play and the final substitution made to bring fresh legs into the vital midfield area. Although Leicester tried, they only had one good chance again – with a tame long range shot from Konchesky the best they could offer before Waghorn headed wide on the stroke of the 90th minute.
Town’s team (4-1-2-2-1):
Ian Bennett; Paul Dixon, Murray Wallace, Anthony Gerrard (c), Calum Woods; Jordan Sinnott (Oliver Norwood 65); Scott Arfield, Adam Clayton; Chris Atkinson (Oscar Gobern 83), Sean Scannell; Alan Lee (James Vaughan 70)
Nick Colgan, Tom Clarke, Jack Hunt, Matt Crooks
Town booking: Anthony Gerrard (72)
Leicester bookings: Paul Gallagher (86); Anthony Knockaert (89)