Whether Gareth Southgate intended to call up James Justin to his England World Cup squad on Thursday may forever be a mystery after the Leicester defender was carried off on a stretcher during the second half of a routine Carabao Cup victory over Newport County. Southgate is already fretting over his full-back options with Ben Chilwell ruled out and Reece James and Kyle Walker major doubts. Justin, who is thought to have been on Southgate’s 55-man long-list for Qatar, was forced off after an innocuous collision. He made his comeback from injury in January after missing almost a year of action with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
It was a cruel way for Justin’s night to finish given the 24-year-old defender, who is comfortable playing on both flanks, had set Leicester on the path to victory with a stunning left-foot shot that cracked in off a post before Jamie Vardy scored two second-half goals as Brendan Rodgers’s side eased into the last 16 of the competition. Perhaps Justin took inspiration from Kevin De Bruyne, whose recent match-winning free-kick for Manchester City also pinged in off the upright.
Three and a half years ago Leicester learned the hard way about Newport’s appetite for a cup upset and the Leicester chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, alluded to that shock FA Cup third-round exit at Rodney Parade under Claude Puel in his programme notes, citing how those still in the squad would be well-versed on the standards required to advance here. Jonny Evans was the only survivor from the starting lineup that day, with Rodgers making seven changes from the team that earned a third win in four league matches at Everton on Saturday. James Maddison was among those rested altogether, while Youri Tielemans began on the bench.
Newport are 18th in the fourth tier but arrived for their first visit to Filbert Way on a five-match unbeaten run that began when Graham Coughlan took charge last month. The early signs under the former Bristol Rovers and Mansfield manager are encouraging but this was always unlikely to be an evening whereby they could express themselves. For much of the first half Newport, in green, had seven or eight players camped behind the ball. Leicester dominated possession and quickly began to stamp their authority. Jamie Vardy thought he had put the ball on a plate for Ayoze Pérez on eight minutes only for the Liverpool loanee Adam Lewis to intervene.
In swirling wind and rain, Leicester’s enthusiasm would not be dampened by stubborn opponents. Dennis Praet skewed wide after Vardy chested the ball into his path and seconds later Wilfred Ndidi looked to the skies after pulling a shot past Nick Townsend’s right post.
Vardy then supplied Harvey Barnes with a deft touch, freeing the winger to surge towards goal but Townsend made a smart save to prevent Barnes from a tight angle. But just as Newport could scent half-time, Justin played a give-and-go with Praet, decided to drive inside from the right flank and curled a brilliant left-foot shot in off the upright. Cue the goal music to turn up the volume on a flat evening.
Upon taking over Coughlan said the mantra for his players had to be “crawl, walk and then run” and his side spent most of this game doing the latter, often in the shadows of the Leicester players, whose class eventually told. Barnes tested Townsend with a swerving right-foot shot midway through the second half and Vardy doubled Leicester’s lead soon after with a superb glancing header from the substitute Marc Albrighton’s cross. Townsend will perhaps feel he should have done more than get fingertips to the ball. Approaching the hour the Newport defender Mickey Demetriou saw a header from a Matt Dolan free-kick cannon against a post but the centre-back was correctly flagged offside.
Vardy took his second goal superbly too. Barnes slipped the Leicester No 9 through on goal and Vardy toyed with the Newport goalkeeper before rounding Townsend and then fooling Priestley Farquharson, who ended up skidding on the turf before Vardy slammed the ball home. Vardy stuck his tongue out in celebration but a good night’s work was soured by Justin’s injury.