Leicester City’s players may have been sorry to see Craig Shakespeare sacked last week but there was no trace of self-pity here as they came from behind to earn a place in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup. Leeds United took the lead thanks to a lovely goal by Pablo Hernández but that proved to be the catalyst for a commanding fightback by the hosts, who retorted with fine strikes by Kelechi Iheanacho, Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez.
The result, on the back of the victory at Swansea City on Saturday, brought Michael Appleton’s tally to two wins from two matches in temporary charge but the caretaker manager is likely to step down soon as Leicester prepare to make a full-time appointment. Claude Puel, the Frenchman let go by Southampton in June, has emerged as a surprising candidate for the role.
“It’s been a difficult week,” Appleton said. “It certainly would have been a lot worse and tougher had we not won the last two games. We’ve tried to stay in a positive frame of mind and stay professional and prepare properly and I think the two performances suggest that’s been the case.
“ When I first spoke to the powers-that-be, it was a matter of taking every game as it comes and making sure the lads are prepared as best as they can be. I’m sure I’ll have more information over the coming days and weeks.”
Leeds know all too well how hard it can be to function amid turmoil but they arrived at the King Power Stadium as a relatively stable club, perched fourth in the Championship and exuding optimism under new leadership. But because they face a duel on Friday against Sheffield United, the team one place above them in the league, Thomas Christiansen deployed a weakened side here, Kalvin Phillips the only survivor from the lineup that started Saturday’s win at Bristol City. Leeds fans travelled in force as always and helped generate an atmosphere that made this feel like more than a contest between a pair of second strings.
The early exchanges on the pitch were tame but that changed in the 12th minute when Jay-Roy Grot swapped a nifty one-two with Kemar Roofe before a save from Ben Hamer. Roofe tested Hamer again moments later and in the 25th minute he embarked on another run infield from the right before offloading to Hernández five yards outside the Leicester box. The Spaniard wriggled away from Marc Albrighton before curling a delicious shot from 20 yards into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
It was a deserved lead for the visitors, who had controlled most of the match until that point. But they relinquished it within four minutes when their goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald, rushed off his line to clear a pass over the top before Islam Slimani could collect it. Wiedwald would have been better off pouncing on the ball, as his weak kick went straight to Kelechi Iheanacho, who placed a fine shot into the bottom corner of the unguarded net from 20 yards. It was the Nigerian’s first goal for the club since his £25m transfer from Manchester City. “He grew in confidence after that,” Appleton said accurately.
Leicester dominated the second period. Gray missed the target after Slimani teed him up following a slip by Pontus Jansson. Then Wiedwald got lucky when he was marooned by a bad back pass that Slimani intercepted. The Algerian pulled the ball back to Andy King, who ballooned a shot over the bar. If that was fortunate, the escape on the hour was barely believable, Slimani sparing the visitors by heading over an empty net from three yards after a fine cross by Albrighton.
The reprieve was temporary. Slimani redeemed himself by sidefooting into the net from close range after an incisive move involving Iheanacho and Vicente Iborra. Mahrez rounded off the scoring in style, topping off a 30-yard dash by curling into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.