Saturday, December 6, 2003
Foxes in fine fettle
Not even the most optimistic of Leicester fans could not have dreamed about occasions such as this a year ago.
Ben Thatcher and Jordan Stewart celebrate a job well done. (CliveMason/GettyImages)
The visit of Arsenal to an impressive new stadium was not a tale associated with the Foxes in their troubled recent past. Yet all that torment of administration is behind them and Premiership football is on the menu for this friendly midlands clubs once again.
The mass media, you can be assured, are delighted by the revival. Leicester and their impressive press liaison team have always been among the more cooperative in the game, their matchday programme has long been the best in the country and the food on offer for home games has always been magnificent.
Walking past the Filbert Street site that used to be home and towards the sparkling white and blue structure that has carved its way into the skyline just half a mile down the road, you get the sense that this club no longer need to be struggling minnows. Any club that provide a plush lift for the media to reach their seat on the third floor of the stand of the deserve success!
But the reality is that survival has to be their one and only aim this season. Their patchwork side featuring honest Premiership journeymen are unlikely to push the Foxes into the top half of the table, but they could provide the foundation for manager Micky Adams to build the club his way.
Against an Arsenal side shorn of the talents of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, the odds were evened up a little on this chilly afternoon, but the fact that not a single player on the Leicester side would have made it onto Arsene Wenger's team sheet said much about the apparent gulf in class between the two sides.
Yet Leicester more than matched their famous opponents in a dour first half that barely produced a clear cut chance things could only get better after the break.
Gilberto Silva signalled his intentions with an early shot that brought the best out of Ian Walker two minutes after the restart, but the former Spurs keeper had no chance when Dennis Bergkamp's cross picked out Silver with nearly a hour gone. The Brazilian couldn't miss with a header from six yards out.
Gilberto then hit a post as Arsenal looked for the decisive second, but then came a moment that highlights the one obvious weak spot in the Gunners mark-up under Arsene Wenger.
Ben Thatcher had riled the Arsenal player after they claimed he stamped on Freddie Ljungberg in the first half, but nothing could justify Ashley Cole's shocking lunge on the ex-Tottenham man 18 minutes from time. His two footed assault started some five yards before the ball and it brought an instant red card that would eventually cost his side two points.
Arsenal are used to playing with ten men and looked comfortable as they tired to see out the game, but a high ball into the box fell to Craig Hignett in the box and with a flick of the boot, he denied Wenger's men two vital points.
Just for a change, the Arsenal boss managed to see the latest moment of disgrace from one of his team and he has few words of sympathy for Ashley Cole. 'The tackle was too high and I have to accept this red card,' he admitted. 'I have not spoken to Ashley so I can't say how he explains the tackle, but maybe he felt he could get the ball.
'I have seen the incident on the television and I have to say that Ashley was wrong. We will be without him now for some key games and maybe we could have won today if he had stayed on the pitch.
'I felt we deserved to win. We fought all day against a tough Leicester side and should not have given away a goal like that in the final minute.'
I have apologised to my team mates and the boss as I deserved to be sent off. ”
— Ashley Cole
Even Cole accepted he was in the wrong when he spoke to the media after the game. 'I have apologised to my team mates and the boss as I deserved to be sent off,' he said. 'I didn't intent to hurt Ben Thatcher and I am sorry for what happened.'
Leicester boss Micky Adams had a jovial response to questions about the Cole 'challenge'. 'Shall I do an Arsene Wenger here and say I didn't see it,' he asked with a smile. 'When I see the Ashley Cole incident on TV I may comment then, but that's for another time.
'I would rather talk about my players and I felt they were magnificent today. We put enough effort into the game to get something out of it and against a side no one expected us to get anything out of, it is a good point.'
Another day of disgrace for Arsene Wenger's Gunners will be dominated the back page headlines tomorrow morning. As for Leicester, they can sit back and gloat as they slowly return to the summit of the English game.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dennis Bergkamp - In a game that was crying out for a touch of magic, the Dutch maestro came up with the goods as he provided the perfect cross for Gilberto Silva's goal.
FOOD WATCH - It looked like a traditional meat pie, but it turned in a chicken korma curry pie. Sounds horrible, but the offering in the Leicester press room was rather tasty. Soccernet's Insider turned down the chance to tuck into the cream cakes in a bid to preserve the waistline before the Christmas binge.
REF WATCH: He didn't have much to do, but Rob Styles still managed to have a woeful game. However, he had no choice other than to send Cole off after his moment of madness.
MOAN OF THE MATCH: Robert Pires blotted his copybook again with a couple of blatant dives that were rewarded with free kicks by the incompetent Styles.
ARSENAL VERDICT: This performance suggested they may not be able to cope if anything terrible happened to Henry in the near future. They looked half a team without him and it must be a concern for Wenger.