Less than 5,000 Crystal Palace fans were lured to Selhurst Park by the glamour of the FA Cup last night. It was cold enough for a linesman to pull a muscle in the later stages but those that did brave the elements to watch this third-round replay were rewarded by a solid home display marked by a scruffy goal from Paul Ifill and a well-taken one from Sean Scannell.
Victory brought the dubious reward of a fourth-round visit to Watford. Palace went out of the competition at Vicarage Road last season but their manager Neil Warnock is taking the Cup more seriously this year – even if the supporters are not – and will feel a place in the last 16 is within reach. "I've told the lads I'd like a Cup run," Warnock said. "I think a Championship club will be there or thereabouts these days." "It's disappointing, but the league has always been our priority," said Nigel Pearson, the Leicester manager.
The banks of empty seating underscored the reality that both clubs have more pressing priorities. Palace are two positions off the Championship play-off places, Leicester have a nine-point cushion as they seek an instant return after dropping into League One for the first time in their history in May.
Nevertheless both managers fielded strong teams, but with one stand closed the match began in a funereal atmosphere. It appeared to affect the players, aside from a couple of efforts by Alan Lee the only incidents of note in the opening 40 minutes were knee and ankle injuries to Leicester's Aleksandar Tunchev and Palace's Victor Moses respectively. They will both be checked this morning.
As the first match had been equally dire, extra-time loomed already when, glory be, there came a goal. One worthy of the match. Nick Carle rolled a pass into Ifill in the box. He turned and shot, the ball took a huge deflection, and rolled in past the stranded David Martin.
The goal perked up Palace and, shortly before the break, Ifill nearly scored a far more satisfying second with a powerful volley which cannoned back off the post. Leicester, embarked upon the second half with greater purpose but this left them vulnerable to the counter-attack. Ten minutes into the half Palace doubled their advantage from such a move. Lee's clever pass sent Scannell free and the locally-born youngster sprinted away to score.
Leicester's travelling band of 1,213 fans had less to cheer. Finally, with the last kick of the tie, Max-Alain Gradel converted from close range.
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Clyne, Lawrence, Hill, Butterfield; Carle, Derry, Danns; Ifill (Andrew, 78), Lee (Kuqi, 63), Moses (Scannell, 32). Substitutes not used: Flahavan (gk), Hills, Ertl, Comley.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Martin; Edworthy (Gilbert, 75), Hobbs, Tunchev (Morrison, 23), Mattock; Oakley, King, Berner, Gradel; Dickov (Chambers, 63), Howard. Substitutes not used: Cisak (gk), Adams, Porter, Powell.
Referee: S Tanner (Somerset)