Leicester, England (AP) — Depleted by injuries and under almost constant pressure, Aston Villa came within 16 minutes of leaving Leicester with an unexpected advantage from the first leg of their English League Cup semifinal on Wednesday.
Then a “farcical” moment, as Villa manager Dean Smith put it, wasted all his team’s good work.
Villa defender Ezri Konsa was booked for time-wasting as he dallied over a free kick inside his own half, then compounded that by playing a short, misguided pass to teammate Douglas Luiz, who was immediately dispossessed by Leicester substitute Hamza Choudhury.
The ball made its way to another second-half sub, Kelechi Iheanacho, who shifted it onto his favored left foot and slammed it high into the net to rescue a 1-1 draw for Leicester.
It’s all to play for between the two teams from central England in the second leg at Villa Park on Jan. 28.
“It’s set up perfectly,” said Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, whose team won 4-1 away to Villa in the Premier League a month ago.
The winner will play Manchester City or Manchester United in the final. City leads 3-1 after Tuesday’s first leg at Old Trafford.
Leicester, second in the league and the big pre-match favorite to win its semifinal, had 21 shots to Villa’s three but struggled for fluidity in front of the visitors’ stacked defensive line.
Indeed, Villa had just one shot on target at King Power Stadium and it went in, right back Frederic Guilbert breaking forward to get on the end of a cross by Anwar El Ghazi and prod home a close-range finish in the 28th.
Following a recent season-ending injury to Brazil international Wesley and with backup striker Jonathan Kodjia also out, Villa didn’t play a recognized striker – a tactic also employed to good effect by City at Old Trafford on Tuesday – so lacked any presence up front.
Villa defended obdurately, with prolific Leicester striker Jamie Vardy – the top scorer in the Premier League this season – getting only three sights of goal. The first two before halftime were saved by Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland, also only playing because a season-ending knee-ligament injury to Tom Heaton, and Vardy’s third attempt was struck into the side-netting just before the final whistle.
“Leicester were the better team but we defended well at times,” Smith said. “We were loose on the ball, we’ve got to do better.
“I’m certainly content with a draw, just not the performance. We gave away a farcical goal. Ezri Konsa has got brain-dazzled.”
Vardy returned from a calf problem but Leicester has its own injury issue this month, with Rodgers saying holding midfielder Wilfred Ndidi will require a minor operation on Thursday on a knee complaint.
Rodgers chose to play Youri Tielemans in a deeper-than-usual midfield role as a replacement for Ndidi, but felt it was “all too slow and not aggressive enough” in the first half.
Choudhury, a specialist holding midfielder, entered as a halftime substitute and produced the sharp tackle that led to Iheanacho’s goal and changed the course of the two-legged matchup.
“To get to a final, you are going to have to suffer,” Rodgers said. “And we did a bit tonight.”
Villa is a five-time winner of the League Cup, most recently in 1996. The last of Leicester’s three titles in the competition came in 2000.
The second leg of City-United is on Jan. 29, and the final will be staged at Wembley Stadium on March 1.