LONDON • Brendan Rodgers had warned that his evolving Leicester side would not get anywhere without learning how to suffer.
Aston Villa sure put them to the test at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday night, defying the form book and a spate of injuries to hold the hosts 1-1 in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final.
Frederic Guilbert's opener even looked like giving the visitors a lead to take into the second leg on Jan 28, but Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench for an equaliser that leaves the tie intriguingly poised.
This was a far tighter contest than expected and nothing like last month's Premier League game at Villa Park, where Leicester strolled to a 4-1 victory.
It seemed like a repeat of that thrashing was on the cards after Villa travelled without most of their spine, including Tom Heaton, John McGinn and Wesley, owing to injuries.
They are bidding to lift their first major trophy since the 1996 League Cup, but their line-up also had no recognised forward after Jonathan Kodjia was omitted due to illness.
But Dean Smith improvised a solution with Anwar El Ghazi and Jack Grealish alternating as auxiliary strikers and his team showed enough determination and quality to make life difficult for high-flying Leicester, who are second in the top flight and aiming for their first League Cup trophy in 20 years.
Kelechi Iheanacho has been involved in seven goals (five goals, two assists) in his five competitive appearances against Aston Villa - more than any other opponent in his career.
Though outplayed for the second half, Villa deserved a share of the spoils for their resilience and organisation and their manager suggested it gave him optimism for the second leg.
"We can take an awful lot of confidence and belief away from this game," Smith said. "To leave here unbeaten when everyone knows how well they have been playing is good for our confidence.
"It was a great, mature performance (from Grealish). He carried the ball so well and when we were rushed, he showed composure."
Rodgers, too, saw much that pleased him, although he admitted he had made a mistake by not starting Hamza Choudhury, who ended up making a "huge difference".
The substitute made the crucial interception that allowed striker Iheanacho to pounce. And the manager revealed the midfielder would have a big part to play with Wilfred Ndidi injured until next month.
Rodgers said: "It's my fault that I didn't start him tonight. We could see that we needed him and he gave us our identity back.
"Wilf took a knock in training... It was just unfortunate, he nicked his meniscus just changing direction."
Of Villa's resistance, he said: "It's a semi-final and you're not going to have everything your own way. We had to be patient and stay calm and keep playing.
"Over two ties it was always going to be tough, and to get to a final, you have to suffer. But the boys are confident."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN