after extra time
Leicester City 1 Middlesbrough 1
Juninho stood alone, a Boro scarf around his neck, a Brazilian flag on his shoulder, still struggling to believe what he had seen. The Coca-Cola Cup final had just finished and the little Brazilian bore the disbelieving look of a man robbed of something precious.
Middlesbrough did not lose yesterday's final, it just felt like it. Leading through Fabrizio Ravanelli's goal after four minutes of extra time, they were shattered by Emile Heskey's scrambled equaliser two minutes from the end.
It was a dramatic finale to an ordinary game but it was nothing new for Leicester. At Wembley 10 months ago, in the promotion play-off final, they left it even later before Steve Claridge defeated Crystal Palace. No team, not even Wimbledon, can best this club for heart.
Middlesbrough certainly cannot: their galaxy of foreign stars all disappointed. Ravanelli may have scored but he missed two fine chances and, like Emerson - a curious man of the match - spent too much time complaining. Mikkel Beck was simply anonymous while Juninho took too long to make an impact.
Some will say the poor quality of this game is another argument for scrubbing the competition. They may not recall that the last FA Cup final, featuring the two biggest names in the game, was even worse. The pleasure both sets of fans derived from simply being at Wembley justified the League Cup's continued existence.
The replay is at Hillsbrough on 16 April. Before then Boro have pressing League business to attend to. Coventry's unexpected victory at Anfield yesterday has dropped them back into the relegation zone. Instead of returning home last night dreaming of Europe, they had the Nationwide League on their minds.
There was much else for Middlesbrough to ponder. Only in extra time, when Leicester tired, did their superior quality show. That moment after the match was one of the few occasions Juninho had been alone all afternoon. Pontus Kaamark, Leicester's Swedish international defender, never left his shoulder during the game.
For understandable reasons Martin O'Neill, the Leicester manager, had set out to stop Middlesbrough first and hope to nick something at the other end. Mike Whitlow came in to make up a flat back four, Heskey dropped deep on the left to make a midfield four, and Kaamark watched Juninho.
This nullified Middlesbrough but it also left Leicester's attack bereft of pace, and Steve Claridge without a partner. Add a referee, Martin Bodenham, who allowed all manner of checks and holds to go unpunished in the mistaken belief it would help the game flow, and you had a soporific first half. The only incident of note was a wide shot by Ravanelli after a neat dribble. Even the supporters, so vibrant at the start, had fallen silent.
It had to get better in the second period. Fortunately it did. With Heskey pushed further forward Leicester now had a threat and Middlesbrough more space. In addition, Kaamark, having been booked after 37 minutes for fouling Juninho, now had to be more careful in his marking.
It took just six minutes for Middlesbrough to press but Leicester's defence was equal to the challenge. Whitlow made a crucial tackle on Juninho, Steve Walsh headed clear from Ravanelli then steered Nigel Pearson's goal-bound shot wide. Led by the inspirational Walsh, they covered for each other throughout with a succession of key tackles and blocks.
They also launched a few attacks of their own, with Mark Schwarzer having to make his first save, from Whitlow's header, after 57 minutes. Six minutes later Heskey rose to Garry Parker's free-kick and bounced a header off the bar but, in between, Kaamark had made a magnificent headed clearance as Juninho closed in on Ravanelli's cross.
With 13 minutes remaining, Ravanelli almost scored. Taking advantage of the temporary absence of Spencer Prior, who was being treated on the touchline, he glanced Craig Hignett's cross on to the far post. Prior returned and almost gifted Hignett a goal, but Kasey Keller reacted quickly to block. It was his first real save, an indication of the quality of Leicester's defending.
Middlesbrough had gradually taken over as Leicester's legs grew heavy and, as the game moved into extra time, they penned City back. They should have scored after two minutes, but Beck's cross again fell to Ravanelli's weak right foot. Two minutes later a chance finally came to his left. Juninho danced into the box and, though Neil Lennon halted him, the ball rolled to Ravanelli. Boom, the silver fox thumped in his 11th goal of the competition.
The running foxes kept running. Mark Robins came on, Walsh was pushed into attack. With two minutes left he headed Robins' cross back across goal to Heskey, who headed against the bar. He, Claridge and a clutch of defenders dived in for the loose ball and Heskey got the crucial touch.
Goals: Ravanelli (94) 0-1; Heskey (118) 1-1.
Leicester City (4-5-1): Keller; Grayson, Prior, Walsh, Whitlow (Robins, 105); Lennon, Parker, Kaamark, Izzet (Taylor, 107), Heskey; Claridge. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk).
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Cox, Pearson, Festa, Fleming; Hignett, Emerson, Mustoe, Juninho; Ravanelli, Beck. Substitutes not used: Vickers, Moore, Blackmore.
Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).
Bookings: Leicester City Kaamark, Grayson, Prior, Heskey; Middlesbrough Beck, Juninho, Cox.
Man of the match: Walsh. Attendance: 76,757.Reuse content