Kelechi Iheanacho spares Leicester’s FA Cup blushes against valiant Walsall

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It was not straightforward, but it was deserved. Leicester City ground their way into the last 16 of the FA  Cup courtesy of a strike from substitute and tournament specialist Kelechi Iheanacho. Hovering in the middle of League Two, Walsall guaranteed pluck – and they certainly had that – but in the end class told.

With form slipping and a supine Carabao Cup exit to dampen enthusiasm, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers plumped for a stronger starting XI than he fielded at Gillingham in the third round. Most significantly in a team fit for the Premier League, James Maddison started for the first time since limping off at West Ham before the World Cup. Raring to go, Maddison was soon getting himself booked for speaking out of turn after being clattered by Robbie Willmott, finding Row Z with a wild shot when well placed and embarking on a jinky run which had him skipping around half the Walsall team before finding touch with an attempted cross.

James Maddison is shown a yellow card by referee Gavin Ward Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Walsall head coach Michael Flynn saw his top scorer Danny Johnson recalled by his parent club Mansfield Town, while midfield powerhouse Liam Kinsella was injured and defensive colossus Manny Monthe suspended.

The League Two side were all Sturm und Drang from the start. Andy Williams was nominally the sole striker, but he was supported by Isaac Hutchinson as midfield helmsman and Willmott and To Knowles sprinting through the channels to prey upon Wout Faes and Daniel Amartey, albeit without testing Daniel Iversen.

Leicester held their nerve and waited for the storm to abate. When it did, Leicester had their chances – fine foraging from Youri Tielemans gave Patson Daka the space for a shot on the turn which Owen Evans flopped on to – and Walsall resorted to roughhouse and a series of robust challenges served only to galvanise the visitors. By the end of the first half they were on top, although Daka’s prodigal finishing meant they lacked threat.

No matter, they had a penalty two minutes into the second when Daka was bundled over just inside the box. Tielemans’ penalty was low, hard and true, but it struck the inside of the post and rebounded to safety. That miss galvanised both teams. At one end Williams hooked over Walsall’s best chance. At the other Evans saved smartly from Harvey Barnes and more smartly still from Daka after the goalkeeper had parried Tielemans’ piledriver.

Iheanacho, scorer of the winner at Gillingham, soon replaced Daka and, six minutes into his cameo, repeated the trick when Nampalys Mendy found him on the edge of the penalty area. The Nigerian curled the ball over Evans with the aid of a slight deflection off Brandon Comley to score his 17th Cup goal in 23 ties.

From there, Leicester were not going to let their lead slip. Iheanacho might have had a second too after Dennis Praet robbed Liam Gordon, but Evans distinguished himself once again and a last 16 berth was theirs.

Walsall vs Leicester City, as it happened