Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri hopes the FA Cup win over Derby will aide the champions’ relegation fight in the Premier League.
A much-changed Leicester team, with Ahmed Musa the only survivor from the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at the weekend, dug deep on Wednesday night to overcome Championship promotion hopefuls Derby 3-1 after extra time.
Wilfred Ndidi and Demarai Gray scored in the additional half an hour to set up a fifth round trip to Millwall and give Leicester a first taste of success in six matches ahead of Sunday’s crucial clash at fellow strugglers Swansea.
Ranieri, whose side are a point above the Premier League drop zone, hopes victory over their east midlands rivals will provide a timely boost as Leicester battle to avoid becoming the first champions to be relegated since Manchester City in 1938.
”I think and I hope this match can improve our Premier League season,” said the Italian, who on Tuesday received a vote of confidence and ”unwavering support” from the club’s Thai owners.
”It is what we needed, wanted. We are now focused on Sunday and three goals is good for confidence as the Premier League is not so good but we have to stay in the Premier League. This fresh air is good for the players.
”But we want to do well in all competitions. We want to go forward in the FA Cup. This victory is important, we get confidence. It is important because, for us, Sunday is one of the main matches of the season.”
Ranieri made 10 changes for the fourth round replay and he was encouraged by the performances of his fringe players.
”Wilfred Ndidi made a very good goal, as did Demarai Gray,” he said. ”I’m happy with Ndidi. This young player is full of personality and good character. We’ve chosen well.
”It was good to see the players who haven’t been involved so much play well and play with personality. (Bartosz) Kapustka played well. (Yohan) Benalouane and (Marcin) Wasilewski were good and if you can imagine, Daniel Amartey arrived (back from the African Nations Cup) at 5.30am in the morning and played 120 minutes. Unbelievable.”
Derby boss Steve McClaren was proud of his players for pushing Leicester all the way over two matches, following the 2-2 draw in the initial tie at Pride Park.
McClaren made eight changes on Wednesday night, with the Rams’ focus on trying to secure a Championship play-off spot, and saw his team beaten in extra time after Abdoul Camara’s deflected free-kick cancelled out Andy King’s headed opener during the 90 minutes.
The former England manager felt it highlighted the strength in depth at his disposal.
”We took them all the way – again,” said McClaren, who after the match called for the Football Association to consider scrapping FA Cup replays.
”The players were heroic and just ran out of stream at the end. I wish I had about eight substitutes as we needed to get some of them off.
”But it encourages me that we have a real squad. Everyone performed well against a good Premier League side. Leicester just had that extra bit of quality in the end but we’ve had two fantastic games against the Premier League champions.
”We showed great spirit and got minutes into the legs of some players and now we need to get ready for Saturday and Bristol City.”