Daily Mail

Foxes reach FA Cup final

Barnstormi­ng run sets up Iheanacho winner as Leicester reach first final in 52 years

- By TOM COLLOMOSSE

JUST when we thought there were no more chapters left of the Jamie Vardy story, the Leicester striker decided to write another.

Vardy’s thrilling charge early in the second half created the winning goal for Kelechi Iheanacho early in the second half, and sent Leicester into their first FA Cup final since 1969.

In their 137-year existence they have never won this trophy, despite reaching four finals. Chelsea will not like the idea of facing Vardy and company as they chase another slice of history, after their stunning Premier League title five years ago.

A week after it was revealed that some of their players had breached Covid regulation­s by attending a gathering, Leicester produced a united response.

Who needs a European Super League when you have tales like Vardy’s? The 34-year-old played in the preliminar­y rounds of this competitio­n during his non-League days and had never played in the last four before this. How he made the most of his opportunit­y.

In front of 4,000 supporters — present at Wembley as part of a Government pilot scheme — Southampto­n matched Leicester for long periods but lacked ruthlessne­ss in front of goal. The Saints’ wait for a first FA Cup since 1976 goes on, while Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers is one step away from his first major trophy in

English football after cleaning up north of the border.

These teams are at their happiest when on the front foot, yet there was there was little goalmouth action in the opening period with both sides looking tentative. Leicester’s Ayoze Perez set the tone in the fourth minute with an awful finish from the corner of the penalty area after Youri Tielemans had picked him out.

Perez was one of three Leicester players left out of last weekend’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham for breaking Covid rules. Two of the others offenders, James Maddison and Hamza Choudhury, started on the bench.

Ibrahima Diallo was then booked for a foul on Vardy earlier in the move. Vardy needed treatment but eventually staggered to his feet.

Vardy entered this match having scored only once in his previous 18 matches and he lacked his usual verve in attack.

When he did find space, Vardy couldn’t convert. In the 24th minute, his shot clipped Jannik Vestergaar­d and Saints keeper Fraser Forster did well to prevent a corner.

Moments later, Perez and Vardy combined cleverly to create space for the Spaniard, who overhit his cross towards Iheanacho — perfectly placed at the far post — and the chance was lost. Saints were keeping a close eye on Iheanacho, who had nine goals in six games before this and scored twice in the 3-1 win over Manchester United in the quarter-finals.

The best chance of the half arrived 11 minutes before the whistle sounded. Tielemans sent Vardy clear with a pass of perfect weight and as Vardy closed in on Forster, he lifted the ball over him — only to clear the crossbar as well. In the closing moments, Iheanacho flicked on Tielemans’ corner and when Jonny Evans headed it towards the far corner, Forster and Ryan Bertrand did just enough to stop Vardy finishing it.

Southampto­n were far more assertive at the start of the second half but found Leicester’s back three, marshalled impressive­ly by Evans in his first FA Cup semi- final, in stubborn mood.

And when another chance came, this time Leicester took it. Vardy spun away from Jan Bednarek and hared on to Ricardo Pereira’s lofted pass before charging 40 yards to the byline and turning it back for Iheanacho.

The Nigerian’s shot was going wide, yet it hit Vestergaar­d and rebounded perfectly for him. The second time, Iheanacho’s aim was true as he guided the ball beyond Forster from close range.

Southampto­n fought back. Twice Leicester failed to clear and when Wilfred Ndidi’s loose header fell perfectly for Diallo, his ferocious volley from the edge of the box flew a shade wide with Kasper Schmeichel beaten.

With England manager Gareth Southgate watching, Maddison replaced Perez with a little more than 20 minutes of normal time remaining. Seven minutes later, he had an excellent chance to double Leicester’s lead when Iheanacho set him up cleverly, but the playmaker fired high and wide. Maddison came closer moments later from 25 yards with an angled drive that swerved slightly wide.

Iheanacho was hobbling late on after taking a whack on the knee, and he could have made it two in stoppage time after yet another elegant move forward ending with a shot that was blocked by Vestergaar­d and no Leicester player could seize on the loose ball.

It didn’t matter in the end as the Foxes showed the craft required to get the job done. Now they wait to see what the remaining scenes of the Vardy drama will hold. LEICESTER (3-4-1-2): Schmeichel 6.5; Fofana 6.5, EVANS 7.5, Soyuncu 6; Castagne 6.5, Tielemans 7, Ndidi 6.5, Pereira 5.5 (Albrighton 60min, 6.5); Perez 6 (Maddison 69, 6.5); Iheanacho 7, Vardy 7. Subs not used: Ward, Amartey, Under, Choudhury, Mendy, Praet, Thomas. Scorer: Iheanacho 55. Booked: Soyuncu. Manager: Brendan Rodgers 6.5. SOUTHAMPTO­N (4-4-2): Forster 6.5; WalkerPete­rs 5.5 (Tella 85), Bednarek 6, Vestergaar­d 6, Bertrand 6 (Salisu 85); Armstrong 7, Ward-Prowse 6.5, Diallo 6, Djenepo 5.5 (Walcott 73, 6); Ings 6, Redmond 6 (Adams 59, 6). Subs not used: McCarthy, Stephens, N’Lundulu, Ferry, Jankewitz. Booked: Diallo, Bednarek. Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 6. Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6.

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 ?? PA/REUTERS ?? Happy chappy: Rodgers celebrates at the final whistle after Iheanacho’s second-half strike (left) pushes the Foxes into the final
PA/REUTERS Happy chappy: Rodgers celebrates at the final whistle after Iheanacho’s second-half strike (left) pushes the Foxes into the final

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