Leicester earned some respite amid a difficult spell in its Premier League title defense by beating Derby 3-1 in a fourth-round replay in the FA Cup, with Demarai Gray’s slaloming solo strike clinching victory in extra time on Wednesday.
The English champions, who have slumped to within a point of the relegation zone, fielded a starting team filled with fringe players in view of a crucial league match against Swansea on Sunday and were held 1-1 by their second-tier opponents after normal time.
Wilfred Ndidi came on at the start of extra time and put Leicester ahead in the 94th minute, before Gray – the standout player at King Power stadium – finished Derby off by cutting in from the left, beating two defenders and driving a rising shot high into the net in the 114th.
Leicester will play another second-tier team, Millwall, away in the last 16 on February 18.
Before then, there’s the trip to relegation rival Swansea, which prompted coach Claudio Ranieri to gamble on 10 changes to his lineup against a Derby side led by former England manager Steve McClaren.
“It was important to get a win to try to kick-start some form to take into the league,” said Leicester midfielder Andy King, who put the home team in front in the 46th minute. “It’s been a tough few weeks and we’ve been getting a lot of criticism. Tonight we showed the fight we have got in the squad.”
Leicester’s victory came a day after the Thai-owned club gave its “unwavering support” to Ranieri in a public show of faith for the manager who collected FIFA’s Coach of the Year award just a month ago.
Ranieri’s side has lost its last four games in the league, without scoring a goal. Its only win in seven games in 2017 had been against Everton in the third round of the FA Cup.
“We have 14 massive games left in the league,” King said, “but now we are through a couple of rounds in the cup. Why can’t we create another journey this season?”
King’s close-range header was canceled out by a deflected free kick from Guinea international Abdoul Camara in the 61st as the game livened up after a dull first half. The teams drew 2-2 last month to set up the replay.