Football: Cottee strike takes Foxes to Wembley

Leicester City 1 Sunderland 1 Leicester win 3-2 on aggregate: Worthington Cup semi-final: First Division leaders have no answer to tactical switch by Leicester manager
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LEICESTER CITY reached the League Cup final for the second time in three years, on the back of a classic poacher's goal by Tony Cottee and some inspired goalkeeping at the very end of the game by Kasey Keller, as Sunderland threw everything forward in an attempt to force extra time.

Yet despite Wembley appearances becoming a habit for Martin O'Neill's men, the Leicester manager emphasised afterwards that he was extremely grateful for the chance to return to the old stadium and play Tottenham on 21 March, when a place in the Uefa Cup is at stake, something they claimed when they beat Middlesbrough two years ago. He said: "It feels as good this time as it did last time. You can never go to Wembley too often."

In his euphoric state, O'Neill could also barely digest the news which was made public last night that planning permission has been granted, in principle, for the new, bigger stadium that O'Neill craves for his side, saying simply: "Let me celebrate this game first."

It was Cottee, brought back for pounds 500,000 from Malaysia 20 months ago - "the bargain of the century" said O'Neill - who added to his two goals from the first leg after 54 minutes and in turn ended Sunderland's own Wembley dream. Not that their manager, Peter Reid, was complaining too much in defeat, as he admitted later that this game was only a distraction from the main objective of reaching the Premiership next season.

Yet it could have been very different for Reid's men, who started out as if Wembley was very much at the front of their minds as they took the game all the way to Leicester, who held a 2-1 advantage from the first leg but started nervously, as O'Neill admitted later, not knowing whether to attack or defend.

That hesitant approach by the home side almost led to Sunderland taking the lead after only eight minutes, when Kevin Phillips had two chances inside the six-yard box from Michael Gray's corner but failed to get a proper shot on target. Niall Quinn went even closer 11 minutes later as Nicky Summerbee's cross from the right evaded the Leicester defence but Quinn, surprised by the opportunity, headed just wide.

The Republic of Ireland striker was a constant threat in the air all night and notched up his 16th goal of the season with 35 minutes gone, as he outjumped Matt Elliott at the far post from Lee Clark's cross and headed the ball inside Keller's left post.

Leicester's only real threat in the first half came from a Muzzy Izzet shot from the edge of the area, but half-time proved Leicester's salvation as O'Neill changed formations and brought on Robbie Savage. The Welsh midfielder then played his part in Cottee's goal, as he laid the ball back to Neil Lennon, who chipped a pass into Cottee's path, with the centre- forward doing the rest, as he nicked the ball past Thomas Sorensen. "The only time our defence went to sleep," commented Reid afterwards.

Yet a Cup tie that had flickered with excitement finally burst into flames in the final three minutes as Sunderland found a way behind Leicester's stubborn midfield and defence in a last-ditch attempt to level the tie on aggregate and force extra time.

With four minutes left, Quinn was denied a headed goal only by Keller's full-length save, a minute later Keller tipped over from substitute Danny Dichio and with only seconds remaining Quinn headed at the goalkeeper from point-blank range.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Elliott, Walsh, Taggart (Savage, h-t); Sinclair, Guppy, Lennon, Izzet, Ullathorne; Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Kaamark, Zagorakis, Marshall.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Gray, Melville, Butler; Ball, Clark, Summerbee (Dichio, 85), Johnston; Quinn, Phillips (Bridges, 57). Substitutes not used: Smith, Williams, McCann.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).