Leicester: Wilfred Ndidi put a smile back on Claudio Ranieri`s face as the Leicester midfielder`s first goal for the troubled champions inspired a 3-1 win over Derby in Wednesday`s FA Cup fourth round replay.
Ranieri has found himself under fire after Leicester slumped to within one point of the Premier League relegation zone less than a year after their fairytale title triumph.
Amid claims Ranieri has lost the support of his squad, the Leicester boss was given a vote of confidence by the club`s Thai owners on Tuesday.
But Ranieri was in danger of an embarrassing Cup exit when second tier Derby forced extra-time at the King Power Stadium thanks to an Abdoul Camara equaliser after Andy King`s opener.
Ndidi was Ranieri`s saviour as the Nigeria international, who joined from Belgian club Genk in January, came off the bench to score with a superb long-range effort before Demarai Gray`s solo strike clinched Leicester`s first win in six matches.
Next up for Leicester in the Cup is a fifth round trip to third tier Millwall on February 18, but Ranieri knows ensuring top-flight survival is all that matters this season.
Having labelled Sunday`s trip to fellow strugglers Swansea as a “big battle” it was no surprise Ranieri made 10 changes from last weekend`s 3-0 defeat against Manchester United.
And with Derby boss Steve McClaren making eight changes for the promotion chasers, what could have been a blood and thunder cup tie was more akin to a reserve fixture for long periods.
Ranieri`s approval rating with Leicester`s supporters remains high and they sung his name loudly in the opening stages.However, his makeshift line-up laboured to reward the fans` good faith in a turgid first half.
On the brink of half-time, Jacob Butterfield almost put Derby ahead when his fierce low strike was turned away by Leicester goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.
Having struggled in the first half, Ranieri`s side finally pieced together an incisive attack to take the lead in the 46th minute.
Gray was the catalyst, cleverly working space for a cross to the far post, where Marc Albrighton nodded back across goal to King and the long-serving Leicester midfielder headed home from close-range.
But when Derby`s Camara smacked a free-kick straight at Zieler moments later, it foreshadowed more frustration for Leicester.
In the 61st minute, Albrighton gave away a free-kick 25 yards out and this time Camara struck gold as the Guinea winger`s shot took a wicked deflection off Ben Chilwell and flashed past the wrong-footed Zieler for his first ever Derby goal.
Late in normal time, Derby keeper Jonathan Mitchell somehow avoided a red card from referee Mike Jones despite stopping Ahmed Musa`s raid by racing out of the area and blocking with his hand.
Derby had a lucky escape when Max Lowe chested the ball against his own post, but Leicester finally conjured a moment of inspiration to win it four minutes into extra-time.
Riyad Mahrez fed fellow substitute Ndidi who advanced unchecked before unleashing a blistering strike that beat Mitchell and went in off a post.
Gray capped Leicester`s encouraging finale in the 114th minute when he went on a mazy run through the Derby defence and guided a cool finish into the roof of the net.
Source: Zee News