Macari's men stoked up for home leg

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 0 Stoke City 0

Stoke's bizarre battle hymn, Tom Jones' Delilah, often drowned out the songs of the Leicester supporters during the first leg of their First Division play-off semi-final at Filbert Street. As a metaphor for the match it was not inapposite, and Lou Macari's side must be confident of finishing the job on the green, green grass of home.

Only in the final half-hour, after the introduction of Garry Parker brought a modicum of imagination to Leicester's attacks, did they make inroads into a defence whose central pillars were absent injured.

Leicester were competing in the play-offs for the fourth season in five, having reached the Wembley final on each of the previous occasions. Stoke were taking part for only the second time, but quickly established a moral advantage.

Steve Claridge's ill-judged backpass after only three minutes may have been symptomatic of the tension such fixtures generate; or perhaps it was the inevitable result of a striker performing defensive chores. Either way, Simon Sturridge was on to the ball in a flash, outpacing Julian Watts with ominous ease. Kevin Poole, sprinting off his line, saved with a leg.

The danger to Leicester had still not passed. Mark Devlin whipped in a right-wing centre which found Graham Potter rising unchallenged at the far post. The cross required a header into the roof of the net. Potter nodded the ball down, and this time Poole blocked at point-blank range to bring the watching Gordon Banks to his feet. Fanciful comparisons were drawn between the Leicester keeper's heroics and Banks' gravity-defying stop from a certain Brazilian in 1970. The qualification must be made that, for all his height, Potter is no Pele when it comes to aerial prowess.

In the confusion that followed the incident, Nigel Gleghorn was clearly brought down by Simon Grayson. The referee, lenient to a fault throughout, can only have been unsighted.

The mobility of Sturridge and Mike Sheron continued to look the more likely source of a goal, and both were involved in the build-up as Devlin tumbled under a 54th minute challenge by Mike Whitlow.

While Parker's arrival belatedly gave Leicester a less-laboured look, Mark Prudhoe was not called into meaningful action until the 66th minute, when he swooped to clutch Claridge's header on the line. Ian Clarkson later cleared a similar, goal-bound effort by Steve Walsh, but Stoke, who won 12 of their final 16 home League fixtures, were not of a mind to let their hosts seize the initiative.

Leicester (4-4-2): Poole; Grayson, Watts, Walsh, Whitlow; Izzet, Taylor, Lennon, Heskey; Claridge, Robins (Parker, 57). Substitutes not used: Carey, Hill.

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

Referee: W Burns (Scarborough). Attendance: 20, 323

Bookings: Stoke: Sandford, Potter.

Man of the match: Wallace.

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