A little context is required before a record FA Cup home defeat for Peterborough United is condemned by all and sundry.
This Leicester City starting XI might have been contained many unfamiliar names, but it still cost £80 million to put together. It included a current England international centre-back, a £40 million two-man central midfield and a fair sprinkling of players who picked up Premier League title-winning medals less than two years ago.
That said, the disappointment eloquently projected by chairman Darragh MacAnthony (‘we didn’t do our best at all, occasion got to us again, our midfield ensured game was soon over’) soon after the final whistle was surely felt by the majority who sold out the ABAX Stadium today (January 27). Posh were playing only for pride after conceding twice in the opening 12 minutes, while damage limitation was the order of the day after 29 minutes when Leicester scored a third goal before two goals in the final stages ensured Posh achieved neither as the previous worst FA Cup beating at London Road (4-1 by a Leeds United side heading for the old Division One title in 1974) was eclipsed with the final kick of the game.
It was a chastening experience in front of thousands of occasional fans who probably won’t rush to return. The sight of the Leicester teamsheet offered hope, but only to those who hadn’t witnessed many Posh matches at the ABAX this season.
Posh have conceded plenty of early possession to the likes of Bury and Oldham, but those teams lacked the quality to take advantage. Playing so open, and with so little protection against the high press, against Leicester players with speed, poise and high quality was asking for trouble and trouble duly arrived.
Manager Grant McCann’s pre-match promise to play on the front foot was sabotaged, rather ironically, by a habit of passing backwards into trouble, first by Liam Shepard’s ill-advised throw to Anthony Grant and then by Chris Forrester’s sloppy pass towards the same midfield partner. Fousseni Daiabate, on his debut, and Kelechi Iheanacho, bought for £25 million from Manchester City to play in cup matches, were the Leicester players to score early and to take the heat out of what should have been a tricky contest in blustery conditions. That’s what BT Sport wanted for their live broadcast, but at least they were compensated by plenty of goals.
To be fair McCann is not the first recent Posh boss to be bamboozled by top-flight opponents in the FA Cup. The last six defeats against Premier League opponents have been by a combined margin of 20 goals. Graham Westley, who oversaw two draws and a penalty shootout defeat to West Brom, must be more of a master tactician and motivator than many realised at the time.
Self-inflicted wounds are always hard to take, but to be fair Leicester were still worth the handsome final scoreline. If this is the standard of Premier League reserve teams (and West Ham and Swansea results from today suggest it isn’t) Posh could well have another 53 years to wait before adding to their increasingly famous 1965 win over Arsenal.
Keeping things tight and turning opposition defenders might have kept Posh in the game for longer, but it’s doubtful. The passing and movement of the likes of Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes was quite scintillating to behold. Everything moved too quickly and too accurately for the Posh players who conceded a third goal to a quite brilliant run and cross from left-back Christian Fuchs that Iheanacho volleyed home from close range.
To their credit Posh did improve for the first half of the second half as Leicester tried to cruise home. Forrester started to fire terrific passes left and right and crosses caused enough consternation in the Leicester defence to turn into corners. From one Marcus Maddison set-piece Steven Taylor knocked down for Andrew Hughes to fire home, but Leicester rode the mini-storm and dominated the last quarter. They turned that domination into late goals for Diabate (who was yards offside, a fact unnoticed by a Premier League assistant) and substitute Wilfrde Ndidi, after Ndidi, Marc Albrighton and Gray had all tested Jonathan Bond in the Posh goal.
“This was a free game,” McCann stated afterwards, meaning a win would have been a bonus on top of the terrific third round success against Aston Villa’s back-up boys, but it could also turn out to be expensive if tired limbs and scrambled minds lead to a lack of confidence for the 18 far more important games to come.
It wasn’t actually a completely bad day as League One results (and a postponement) largely went Posh’s way. There was also the bonus of Maddison and Jack Marriott not performing to their best in front of a large audience inevitably stuffed full of scouts and rival club officials. Neither will be in demand judged solely on this performance or, in Maddison’s case, every performance since Villa Park.
There are still a few days before the transfer window closes. If George Cooper or Joe Ward, who were both cup-tied today, are not capable of playing in that key position occupied by Da Silva Lopes and Morias today, Posh might be well advised to find someone who is.
It’s a position that demands passing ability and vision. The substitution of Da Silva Lopes, who like the others in the team wasn’t great, for Morias today co-incided with the end of the best Posh spell of the match. Morias is an out-and-out forward with great potential. He can’t bridge that gap between midfield and attack.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant, Chris Forrester, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Junior Morias, 61 mins), Marcus Maddison (sub Andrea Borg, 87 mins), Danny Lloyd (sub Idris Kanu, 80 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Alex Penny, Jack Baldwin, Michael Doughty.
Leicester: Ben Hamer, Danny Simpson, Harry Maguire, Yohan Benalouane, Christian Fuchs, Adrien Silva, Vicente Iborra (sub Marc Albrighton, 64 mins), Fousseni Diabaté, Demarai Gray, Harvey Barnes (sub Wilfred Ndidi, 64 mins), Kelechi Iheanacho (sub Ben Chilwell, 80 mins).
Unused substitutes: Eldin Jakupović, Robert Huth, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy.
Goals: Posh - Hughes (57 mins).
Leicester - Diabate (7 mins & 87 mins), Iheanacho (12 mins & 29 mins).
Cautions: Leicester - Iborra (foul).
Referee: Michael Oliver 8
Attendance: 13,193 (3,999 Leicester).