As Leicester’s players and supporters celebrated a Lazarus-like comeback that kept their dreams of another League Cup triumph alive, for heartbroken Fulham it was a case of what if. What if Paul Bracewell had overcome his natural caution and not removed Paul Peschisolido, who was running one of the Premier League’s more secure defences ragged in the name of consolidating a two-goal lead? Even after Leicester’s late comeback, that saw Ian Marshall and Steve Walsh force extra time, there was still the agony of a penalty shoot-out where Chris Coleman, Paul Trollope and Geoff Horsfield all failed.
The finish was a heartbreaking contrast with how the First Division side had started the evening. They might be struggling to score goals in the league but this was a performance to suggest that the Whites can go toe-to-toe with higher division opposition, as they had proven by humbling the holders Tottenham in the last round. Wayne Collins and Steve Hayward kept the ball impressively and Peschisolido was a willing and purposeful runner, with all the invention coming from the visitors in an opening period that unsettled a usually fair Filbert Street faithful.
Coleman was unfortunate to see a goalbound header blocked by Gerry Taggart and it was a measure of how comfortable Fulham were that it took the Foxes almost half an hour to create anything of note. Stefan Oakes’ high ball was flicked on by Marshall but before Emile Heskey could line up his shot, Andy Melville had cleared the danger. Steve Finnan saw a speculative shot smartly saved by Pegguy Arphexad, but Fulham showed signs of causing danger in the opposition box and it was no surprise when Geoff Horsfield and Peschisolido, so pivotal to Fulham’s promotion from the Second Division last year, combined to give them the lead just before the hour.
Horsfield stripped Walsh of the ball and strode in the area before steering a pass for his strike partner. Canadian international Peschisolido side-footed an assured finish into the roof of the net. That increased the panic amongst the home fans but it got worse for Leicester with fifteen minutes to play. Walsh was again the culprit, presenting possession to Peschisolido and, although Taggart managed to block his route to goal, Horsfield was on hand to drive the loose ball into an empty net.
That looked like it for Leicester but they roused themselves in an astonishing finale as Walsh managed to make amends for his mistakes at the other end of the field. Sent forward in search of salvation, the centre half headed on a free kick inside the Fulham area and Marshall hooked a finish beyond Maik Taylor. Walsh then scored himself, smashing home gloriously after he chased a through ball from Taggart, to send the tie into extra time.
But Bracewell’s side showed considerable character to flip the script and restore their lead within three minutes of the restart. Coleman climbed highest to head home a corner and it looked like the shock was back on. The home side roared back, however, with Matt Elliott teeing up Marshall to equalise with nine minutes remaining.
Fulham have never been successful from twelve yards and their penalty shoot out was predictably bad. Martin O’Neill’s men scored all three penalties, whilst Coleman and Trollope shot wide before Arphexad saved Horsfield’s spot-kick sparking wild scenes of jubilation. You had to feel for Fulham – who had given everything and fallen short.
LEICESTER CITY (3-5-2): Arphexad; Elliott, Taggart, Walsh; Sinclair, Savage, Zagorakis (Gilchrist 105), Oakes (Fenton 120), Impey (Gunnlaugsson 54); Heskey, Marshall. Subs (not used): Flowers, Thomas.
GOALS: Marshall (85, 111), Walsh (87).
FULHAM (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Morgan, Melville, Symons, Coleman; Hayward, Trollope, Collins; Horsfield, Peschisolido (Brevett 80). Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Uhlenbeek, Selley, Brooker.
BOOKED: Hayward, Finnan, Horsfield.
GOALS: Peschisolido (58), Horsfield (75), Coleman (93).
REFEREE: Mike Reed (Birmingham).