Chelsea are into the FA Cup semi-finals for the 23rd time in our history thanks to an extra-time winner from substitute Pedro after Alvaro Morata had initially given us the lead.
The centre-forward’s strike from a superb Willian assist just before half-time had warmed Chelsea spirits on a bitterly cold late-winter afternoon in the East Midlands, but Jamie Vardy scored a scrappy equaliser in the second half to consign this tie to an additional half-hour, a historic first for this stage of the competition.
Happily, Pedro popped up with a headed goal just before the extra-time change-around to bring a welcome end to our run of five away defeats and keep the hunt for silverware this season alive.
Both managers went strong with their team selections for this quarter-final. Antonio Conte made three changes from Barcelona, with Willy Caballero continuing as the FA Cup goalkeeper of choice and Morata back in the line-up. Tiemoue Bakayoko replaced Cesc Fabregas in central midfield. It was the Frenchman’s first action for five weeks after injury.
It was Leicester who had the first shot of the game, hit first time but wide by Marc Albrighton, one of two changes to their side from their big win at West Brom last time out. A couple of Chelsea counter-attacks followed, centring on Eden Hazard then Willian but both resulting in set-pieces for the home side.
Andreas Christensen was in the right place to stop the next Leicester attack on 10 minutes, after a couple of ricochets broke their way, and from the corner that followed, their captain Wes Morgan was not far away from bundling the ball in off his shoulder. That would prove to be the closest they came in the first half.
It was Christensen and N’Golo Kante who were the two most prominent Chelsea performers in the opening 20 minutes. Leicester had an ambitious attempt at beating Caballero via the boot of Wilfred Ndidi but to no avail.
The in-form Willian was receiving plenty of close attention, frequently by more than one opponent and Morata, shortly after a painful foul from Morgan, was taken down from behind by the Foxes’ other centre-back, Harry Maguire for the game’s first booking.
Our Spanish striker was back on his feet to unleash our first shot on-target, low from the edge of the area but too close to Kasper Schmeichel. There were 26 minutes played. He was also on the end of a Willian cross following a sweeping Chelsea move but could not control his header.
Just past the half-hour, Willian, prevented from having a shot himself by Leicester’s blue-shirted block, played in Morata who did well to wriggle past Maguire on the byline but his attempted chip over Schmeichel from the tightest of angles hit the side-netting.
He would find the net with his next chance however, to give Chelsea a 42nd-minute lead. Leicester looked to be threatening our goal on the counter when Marcos Alonso foraged possession away from Riyad Mahrez. Toni Rudiger moved the ball on quickly to Willian who was away. After beating one man and breaking into the Leicester half, the Brazilian’s ball through to Morata was so good! The striker collected the perfectly timed and weighted pass and as he closed in on goal, opened his body and placed his shot expertly past Schmeichel.
For the second half, Fabregas came on for Bakayoko who had been booked just before the interval, and shortly after play restarted, we were thankful for Mahrez’s wayward attempt to find the net from distance after a misplaced Caballero clearance came his way.
Leicester were having their best period of the game in terms of possession when Vardy missed horribly with a header when found unmarked by Ndidi’s cross.
Chelsea began to reapply pressure at the other end. Hazard shot over and Schmeichel got an important touch on a Moses cross to prevent Morata grabbing an almost inevitable second goal.
Leicester introduced Shinji Okazaki midway through the second half in place of Kelechi Iheanacho, who had been their other change from the previous game. The Foxes were in need of a spark from somewhere, with Chelsea ahead and the game stuck in an uneventful phase. It was the Londoners who almost broke through the opposing defence when Alonso, a previous two-goal scorer on this ground, was played into the box by Hazard.
But it was Leicester who were next to score, Vardy finding the net from close range after he had initially miskicked from a Mahrez cross and Vicente Iborra had twice been denied by a flying Christensen block and a sharp Caballero save, who was not far away from stopping Vardy’s goalscoring shot too. There were 15 minutes of the 90 to go.
Morata hit the post from an offside position before Caballero came to Chelsea’s rescue on 83 minutes when he saved from Vardy.
The Blues almost threaded our way through the Foxes’ massed defences with normal time nearly up. Willian found Morata but Schmeichel thwarted our centre-forward and so with no replays in this round of the FA Cup anymore, we were destined for extra-time.
The first period was scrappy and lacking in incident until Pedro scored close to the end of it. The Spaniard had come on for Willian a minute into extra-time had had one attempt at goal before scoring, when he hooked over the bar from a Hazard centre.
When a couple of minutes later, Kante delivered a high ball his way, it must have been more in hope than expectation given the height of the target, but the Leicester central defence had gone missing and Pedro nipped between Schmeichel, Albrighton and Ben Chilwell to head home.
A series of Chelsea blocks prevented another Leicester equaliser near the start of the second period and at the other end, Albrighton charged down a Kante goalbound effort. Fabregas did similar to a Adrien Silva shot and so it was the Blues who emerged victorious from this difficult all-Premier League tie, and have an April date at Wembley to look forward to, as celebrated in song by the 5,000-plus Chelsea fans present on the final whistle.
Chelsea Caballero; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen ( Cahill 101), Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Bakayoko (Fabregas h-t), Alonso; Willian (Pedro 92), Morata (Giroud 105), Hazard.
Unused subs Eduardo, Zappacosta, Emerson.
Scorers Morata 42, Pedro 104
Booked Bakayoko 45, Moses 89.
Leicester Schmeichel; Simpson (Diabate 105), Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell; Albrighton (Gray 115), Iborra (Silva 105), Ndidi, Mahrez; Iheanacho (Okazaki 68), Vardy.
Unused subs Hamer, Dragovic, Fuchs.
Scorer Vardy 76
Booked Maguire 25
Referee Craig Pawson