The Hatters’ first Round Two appearance in the Football League Cup for 15 years saw them edged out of the competition on penalties by Leicester City in front of a five-figure crowd at Edgeley Park.
A highly creditable effort over 90 minutes on County’s part kept the tie with the Premier League side to a stalemate, before the visiting ‘Foxes’ scored thrice from the spot to go through.
County took to the field showing half a dozen changes from the League Two starting line-up at Mansfield three days earlier, although all five substitutes used over the weekend were among the replacements brought in – together with Ash Palmer, who was making a first appearance since his dismissal at Stevenage more than a fortnight previously, and who was handed the captain’s armband for the evening.
The Foxes also rang the changes, with only Harvey Barnes surviving from the PL starters at the King Power Stadium against Southampton on the preceding Saturday. But, for all that, eight of the 11 at EP held full international caps, while the remaining three had turned out for their countries at Under-21 level.
One of the senior internationals, Kelechi Iheanacho from Nigeria, unleashed the first shot of the evening with five minutes on the clock – but his effort fizzed well wide of the right post. And half a dozen minutes later, another, Belgian Youri Tielemans, sent a dipping attempt over from distance.
Leicester had been dominant in possession from the outset, without showing a cutting edge in the final third – until just after the 20th minute, when Dennis Praet, cutting in from the right, squared for Patson Daka, whose low snap-shot was kept out by the legs of Vit Jaros.
The Hatters fashioned their first attack of note shortly afterwards, as Joe Lewis pumped a long ball down the right for Connor Evans to cross to Connor Jennings – only for County’s lone striker to be dispossessed by Jannik Vestergaard in front of the near upright and the ball cleared upfield.
But County had begun to grow into the game, and a venomous shot by Callum Camps just ahead of the half-hour stung the hands of visiting goalkeeper Daniel Iversen, who parried behind to give the Hatters a first corner.
As half-time approached, Jaros comfortably caught a Luke Thomas shot from the edge of the box, and subsequently two from Barnes on the area’s left side – whilst Iheanacho drilled an effort just wide of the left post from the County ‘D’.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Leicester 0.
County swapped one Ryan for another upon the resumption – with Johnson replacing Rydel on the left side of defence. And the Hatters were tested at the back early on in the new half, as Thomas sent over a low cross from the left that Palmer, by the near upright, turned behind for a corner.
Ten minutes later, Ollie Crankshaw showed a great turn of speed to cut in from the right before unleashing a shot from the edge of the Cheadle End box that flew narrowly beyond the near post.
The visitors had the luxury of introducing on the hour leading scorer James Maddison and another Belgian international, Timothy Castagne, as they looked to get their noses in front. And Jaros had to be at his best shortly afterwards in holding a well-struck shot by Tielemans.
Another substitute, Kieran Dewsbury-Hall, drilled with his first kick a low shot goal-wards that Jaros smothered, Iheanacho blazed an attempt up into Railway End orbit from the left, and Maddison fired just past the left post, as Leicester continued to seek a breakthrough.
A County corner, taken by Camps from the right a dozen minutes from time, found Palmer who, from beyond the far post, headed towards substitute Kyle Wootton. The striker took a touch before the ball was gathered up by Iversen.
At the other end, with 10 minutes remaining, Mark Kitching cleared off the line from Dewsbury-Hall, before another Tielemans shot fizzed just shy of the right post, and one by Maddison was tipped over by Jaros. But the remaining period of normal time, followed by four minutes added on, failed to separate the two sides, and the tie progressed to penalties.
FULL-TIME (after 90 minutes): County 0, Leicester 0.
The shoot-out at the Railway End saw Antoni Sarcevic, Scott Quigley and Wootton, as well as Maddison for the visitors, have their spot-kicks saved – while Ayoze Perez fired his high and wide – before Dewsbury-Hall stepped up to convert the decider.
PENALTIES: County 1 (Croasdale), Leicester 3 (Tielemans, Barnes, Dewsbury-Hall).
Team (5-4-1): Jaros; Brown, Lewis, Palmer (Capt.), Kitching, Rydel (R. Johnson, 46); Crankshaw, Evans (Wootton, 70), Camps (Croasdale, 90), Hippolyte (Sarcevic, 70); Jennings (Quigley, 70).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Horsfall, Madden, Newby.
Man of the Match: Camps.
Attendance: 10,301 (1,128 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.