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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

Spurs Toppled in Dramatic Style


The trouble with saving 20 and watching football on television is that, suddenly, you realise you weren't there for a massive moment in your club's history.

So it was at the Walkers last night when City's team wrote a chapter into the record books that will be talked about for decades.

This wasn't just a 3-2 FA Cup Third Round victory over Champions League chasing Premiership aristocrats Spurs.

It was a night of every emotion. A night when abject despondency turned to delirious joy. A night when Leicester once more, and after so long, wrote their name in coloured lights across the nations TV screens.

And yet the greatest drama yet seen at the Walkers was so nearly a mismatch.

Swaggering Spurs, their side glistening with household names, swept into a 2-0 lead within 41 minutes and the nature of those goals suggested City might eventually be overwhelmed.

First, from a free kick, Keane headed onto a post leaving Jermaine Jenas a simple tap in on 19 minutes. Then Paul Stalteri launched one of the hardest shots I've ever seen past Rab Douglas at the near post on 41 minutes. It all seemed over.

But suddenly the tide of a season which has swept Leicester into waters deeper and more treacherous than they've ever swam in before - abruptly turned.

It really turned before Spurs' second goal when City manager Craig Levein substituted Joe Hammill for Elvis Hammond, abandoned his disastrous 4-5-1 system and changed to 4-4-2.

But Spurs only got caught in the current when Ryan Smith's deep cross was headed back into the heart of their penalty box and Hammond ruthlessly netted from close range just before half-time.

There still seemed no great danger. Spurs looked too classy and quick to be ruffled and they did have further chances.

But suddenly they were gasping for breath.

Again Smith was involved. A corner from the left appeared harmless but Mark DeVries stretched to get the finest touch on and in came Steven Hughes like a freak wave to blast his first goal of the season high into the net from 20 yards after 57 minutes.

Suddenly Spurs were floundering, gasping for breath as the swells of City's increasing attacks threatened to overwhelm them.

And, just as it seemed they might survive, indeed as it seemed they were heading up the beach to safety by way of a last minute offside call, they were trapped.

A defence-splitting 30-yard pass from Gudjonsson... Instant collective appeal. No flag. DeVries alone in possession near the edge of the penalty area. Cool control, deadly shot into the right-hand corner and Spurs were swept into oblivion...offside or not.

For different reasons, both sets of fans in the 19,844 crowd couldn't believe it. City's because Levein had apparently settled for a draw by bringing on Kisnorbo minutes from time and Spurs because they'd thought the game won long before.

Atlong last during this miserable season, the fanfares of 'Rocking All Over the World' vibrated through the ground and fans clapped and beat or waved their programmes until every one of their heroes had left the field.

I shall never forget the unrestrained joy of young Richard Stearman wrapped in the arms of Rab Douglas and waving to his beloved kop.

He knew he'd lived a special moment. He knew he'd been a rock in Leicester's team on the most challenging of occasions.

He'd attacked, he defended, he'd dived in for vital clearances, he'd stayed calm under pressure. He'd the right to milk a rare, rare experience.

And alongside him in his expression of joy was Arsenal loanee Ryan Smith, young, inexperienced but ever-involved and vital to the outcome because of his two 'assists' and because he always asked questions.

He'll have bragging rights for ages when he goes back to his North London home and club but on the night, there was never any doubting his commitment to Leicester.

And what of Mark DeVries who started this match as the unenvied lone striker against the massive presence of Anthony Gardner?.

Much maligned Mark who one wag reckoned could rent himself out as a dump truck if he put a bucket on his back.

Well Mark was a giant. He contested everything. Made chances for himself, chances for others, ballooned shots high, miscued shots wide but, the sighting shots behind him, proved the coolest of executioners so close to full time. Another Man of The Match contender.

A cruel inquest would point to strange selections and some familiar shortcomings but this wasn't a night to worry about them. This is a night to celebrate...

*Some brilliant saves and interceptions from Rab Douglas.
*The outstanding performance of Richard Stearman.
*The resolve of Paddy McCarthy and, in particular a fair but ferocious tackle on Jermaine Defoe that he'd still be feeling all the way home to London.

*Two important second half interceptions from Nils Eric Johansson that reflected his determination for the cause.

*The way Alan Maybury finally subdued the awesomely talented Aaron Lennon after fouling him for Spurs first goal and having a torrid time until the break.

*The vital creativity of Smith.

*The ferocious goal and increased influence of Hughes.

*The matchwinning pass and all-round excellence of Joey Gudjonsson.

*The wholehearted and seemingly inexhaustible energy of Elvis Hammond and his so-timely and important goal.

*And the visionary influence of Gareth Williams who seems to have found his appetite for the game again.

This was no fluke. City took some body blows, came back fighting and finally, deservedly, won the battle.

I was happy for Craig Levein. He had said before the match that he didn't think we would win and wouldn't really care if we didn't. He should say that every time.

He was in almost constant conversation with his coaches and somehow they chopped and changed into a winning formula.

How they did it doesn't matter.

We won. We're in the Fourth Round. We've claimed a famous scalp. And we've got a brand new match to write into our 'History of Most Famous Games'.






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Go on, get vitalled!

The Journalist

Writer:  Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday January 8 2006

Time: 11:22PM

 

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