Football: Leicester return with pride

Despite having to hang on after two second half goals from Atletico Madrid, Leicester City have a given themselves an excellent chance of reaching the second round of the Uefa Cup. Phil Shaw reports from Madrid.
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The Independent Online
John Robertson could barely speak after 90 minutes of chain smoking and bellowing instructions, but Leicester City's assistant manager croaked an optimistic slant on their 2-1 defeat by Atletico Madrid. If Martin O'Neill's team had scored in the last minute after trailing 2-0, the Scot suggested, they would have left Spain feeling almost jubilant.

Instead, having led for nearly an hour through Ian Marshall, Leicester were rocked by two goals in three minutes. They ended up hanging on to a result which gives them realistic hope of reaching the second round of the Uefa Cup on 30 September.

"It's given us a chance to have a go at them with a real atmosphere at Filbert Street," O'Neill said. "Some of their players might not be prepared for the rickety old stand and the closeness of our crowd, whatever Juninho may tell them."

The Brazilian scored the equaliser despite being well policed by Pontus Kamark, yet it was a less vaunted Atletico player who O'Neill felt did most to undermine his tiring team. "The turning point was when they brought on Linford Christie, or Jose Mari.

"He's just a kid but he's amazingly fast. They bought him from Seville this summer with the aim of developing him for a year rather than playing him. Perhaps they could loan him to us."

Atletico drew level just as the crowds' frustration appeared to be affecting them. The decisive penalty, converted by Christian Vieri, did not prompt O'Neill into knee-jerk managerial carping about referees.

"Two of my coaches, David Nish and Paul Franklin, had a good vantage point high in the stand. The incident Steve Guppy stretched out his foot and their guy went over, they said it was always going to be a penalty. They reckoned it was one we'd have been screaming for at home."

O'Neill and Robertson were, of course, with Nottingham Forest when they won successive European Cups. "No disrespect to this team, but they aren't in the same league as that side. But you know they'll give it everything. We'll go for it at our place - there's no other way."

Meanwhile, 14 coach loads of Leicester supporters were due back in the city at 6.30 this morning after a trek that would have seemed unduly arduous even in 1961, when the clubs last met. After setting out at 9am on Monday, many of the fans were herded into a compound by the police before the game, when they had been expecting to have a long-overdue meal.

Their Spanish inquisition was not without its lighter moments, however. Postcards handed out at Leicester's last home game were posted from Madrid to Molineux with a meassure for O'Neill's predecessor: "Are you watching, Mark McGhee?"