City’s progress in the Capital One Cup was brought to an abrupt halt on Tuesday night, as they were soundly beaten by Burton Albion at King Power Stadium.
A Foxes side showing eight changes from the weekend trip to Blackburn endured a night to forget against their League 2 opponents, whose greater quality throughout thoroughly merited a spot in the competition’s third round.
Though they may have been fortunate to take 1-0 lead into the break – Chris Palmer’s deflected free-kick arriving in amongst a tide of first-half Foxes chances – the Brewers, managed by former Fox Gary Rowett, were the better side in the second period and raced clear with three goals in a stunning 15-minute spell.
First Cleveland Taylor seized on a Zak Whitbread mistake to blast Burton two up, before Anthony Knockaert’s free-kick briefly reduced the arrears.
A penalty from Robbie Weir, harshly awarded against Sean St. Ledger for handball, restored the two-goal lead, before Jacques Maghoma stunned Kasper Schmeichel with a swerving drive from range.
It left the Foxes staring at a humbling home defeat and a late debut goal from substitute Marko Futacs, outstanding though it may have been, proved scant consolation.
Having counted themselves somewhat unlucky to be on the receiving end of defeats at Blackburn and Charlton in their last two league games, this result was somewhat harder to argue with for the Foxes.
Having stuck with the same personnel for the majority of the campaign to date, boss Nigel Pearson handed chances to several members of his squad, with the likes of Neil Danns, Martyn Waghorn, Jeff Schlupp and Paul Gallagher all given their first starts of the season. Whitbread and St. Ledger’s combined return from injury also saw them introduced to the defence for the first time.
They looked relatively untroubled until the 20-minute mark, when Calvin Zola’s presence in the air drew a foul from St. Ledger 20 yards from goal. Palmer bought a ticket and a wicked deflection off the wall gave him a prize in the raffle.
Chances have not been infrequent for City in recent games and they continued to create them as they mounted a response. Gallagher drilled a shot just over, Ritchie De Laet should have done better with a close-range header and when Schlupp spun cleverly to shoot inside the box, Ross Atkins produced a brilliant reaction save.
The Burton ‘keeper continued to frustrate the Foxes as the pressure grew before half-time. Gallagher and Waghorn were both denied, the latter twice in one frenzied attack, while Knockaert also saw an effort kept out.
But the interval offered Burton the chance to regroup. Rowett did the job brilliantly and after a brief spell from the home side, the visitors doubled their lead.
Atkins’ long punt downfield appeared to be under Whitbread’s control, but the Foxes debutant allowed the ball, and Taylor, to slip past him and the Brewers striker produced a deadly finish on the half-volley.
City had some serious work to do. Knockaert gave them hope when, having been tripped by Weir 30 yards out, the Frenchman curled a super shot over the wall and into Atkins’ top corner.
But it was only a temporary reprieve. Palmer delivered a free-kick into the City box from the left, Zola proved a handful once again and as Weir’s shot cannoned into a crowd of bodies, referee Darren Drysdale judged St. Ledger to have handled.
In reality, it looked as though Weir had been the guilty party, but he duly accepted the gift and rifled high to Schmeichel’s right.
Things got worse. Maghoma, shimmering with confidence, threw De Laet a dummy before stepping in off the left and unleashing a venomous drive. Schmeichel was deceived by the deviation of a ball struck with such velocity it drew standing applause from various parts of the home support. The net shook for some time afterwards.
City sought to rebuild their position in the game and, had Futacs made better contact with fellow sub Andy King’s low centre on 78 minutes, it might have set up an interesting finish.
As it was, the Hungarian produced an outrageous looping volley from a Matty James cross three minutes from time that only put a small dent in Burton’s margin of victory.
Saturday sees Championship leaders Blackpool come to King Power Stadium and City have some work to do.
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel (c); De Laet, St. Ledger, Whitbread, Konchesky; Gallagher (Futacs 56), Danns, James, Knockaert (King 73); Waghorn, Schlupp (Nugent 65).
Unused subs: Morgan, Logan, Beckford, Moore.
Goals: Knockaert 60, Futacs 87
Burton (4-3-3): Atkins; O’Connor, Diamond (c), Holness, McCrory; Weir, Bell, Maghoma; Taylor (Dyer 62), Zola (Yussuf 81), Palmer (Kee 86).
Unused subs: Lyness, Corbett, Webster, Richards.
Goals: Palmer 20, Taylor 53, Weir 64 pen, Maghoma 68.
Attendance: 8,560 (662 away)
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)