Football: Parker inspires Leicester surge

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The Independent Online
Stoke City 0 Leicester City 1 (Leicester win 1-0 on aggregate)

What a strange, mercurial season it has been for Garry Parker. After beginning it as Mark McGhee's captain, he found himself dropped after a cup-throwing fracas with Martin O'Neill and then injured. Now it will climax in Leicester's fourth appearance in the First Division play-off final in five years, courtesy of Parker's first goal since August.

Leicester richly deserve their return to Wembley. On last night's evidence at the Victoria Ground, they will present fluid and formidable opposition to Crystal Palace a week on Monday. Stoke, perhaps tempted into believing they had done the hard part by drawing at Filbert Street, may have finished relieved that Parker's goal 28 seconds after half-time was the only one they conceded.

Parker has been so out-of-favour that his contribution to Sunday's first leg was limited to half an hour as substitute. O'Neill elected to retain him, but switched to a five-man midfield rather than using Emile Heskey to partner Steve Claridge up front.

The tactical ruse seemed to throw Stoke, who looked rigid by comparison and were constantly troubled by the breaks from deep positions which Parker's presence allowed Scott Taylor to make.

Taylor, a play-off loser with Reading last May, brilliantly exploited the space between midfield and Claridge. A McGhee signing last summer, he is surely destined for the Premiership even if Leicester do not end their 12-month exile.

Almost inevitably, Taylor was instrumental in setting up the only goal of the tie, which followed a first half in which Leicester played controlled possession football without mustering the penetration to match. Taylor fed a pass to Heskey - much more the pounds 2m prospect on this occasion - although the teenager appeared to have been crowded out on the dead-ball line.

Somehow making space to cross, Heskey lofted the ball beyond the far post. Parker, surging towards the six-yard area, dispatched an unstoppable half-volley into the narrow gap between Mark Prudhoe and the upright.

Stoke, for whom Mike Sheron had turned sharply to send a rising drive past the same post in the 12th minute, mounted a customary ferocious effort in an attempt to equalise.

Yet whereas Taylor continued to carve through Stoke's lines, the biggest threat to Leicester was a pitch invasion by several hundred home fans at the end, which was eventually cleared by police on horseback and dog- handlers.

Stoke City (4-4-2) Prudhoe; Clarkson, Whittle, Sigurdsson, Sandford; Devlin, Wallace, Gleghorn, Potter (Carruthers, 69); Sturridge, Sheron. Substitutes not used: Dreyer, M Macari.

Leicester City (4-5-1) Poole; Grayson, Watts, Walsh, Whitlow; Izzet, Parker, Lennon, Taylor, Heskey; Claridge. Substitutes not used: Robins, Hill, Kalac (gk).

Referee: G Singh (Wolverhampton).