UNITED were unceremoniously dumped out of the Capital One Cup by an excellent Leicester City side at Plainmoor.
The Foxes put on a masterclass to saunter through 4-0 and the Gulls will need to quickly wipe away the cobwebs for a long trip to Fleetwood in the opening game of the League 2 campaign on Saturday.
A clever goal from Lloyd Dyer and Ben Marshall’s blockbuster had Leicester cruising at the break and the visitors added two more worryingly easy efforts from Matty James and Jamie Vardy in the second period.
United boss Martin Ling had his hand somewhat forced in his first competitive team selection of the new season, as injury ruled out Danny Stevens and Lloyd Macklin, while Billy Bodin was away with the Wales Under-21 squad.
The depletion in wing options saw Ryan Jarvis and Ian Morris drift out wide, flanking the central striker Rene Howe. Lee Mansell and Damon Lathrope were joined in midfield by debutant Craig Easton.
The other newbies on show were goalkeeper Michael Poke and centre-back Aaron Downes, with the back four completed by the more familiar trio of Joe Oastler, Brian Saah and Kevin Nicholson. The reversion to seven substitutes also gave Ling a nice set of options on the bench.
Leicester’s strength was perhaps best highlighted by the quality sitting in the opposing dug-out, as the likes of former England international David Nugent, Scottish international Paul Gallagher and the excellent midfield pair of Andy King and Neil Danns were named as replacements by manager Nigel Pearson.
Those who did start in Leicester blue were immediately treated to the in-your-face approach of a League 2 side and United combined their early tenacity with a couple of channel runs from Howe stretching visiting hamstrings.
The pattern was momentarily disrupted by a loose pass from captain Mansell allowing Jamie Vardy to burst clear and lay-off for Ben Marshall to scoop a shot high into the Family Stand.
Mansell’s stoic response was typical of the Yellow skipper, forcing his way into the Leicester box for a header from Oastler’s cross after fine work by Jarvis, which was deflected over Kasper Schmeichel’s crossbar.
Easton took instant inspiration from his new leader, robbing the ball in midfield to release Jarvis, who picked out Morris in acres of space on the left and the final shot ricocheted inches wide off a desperate Leicester challenge.
After the frenetic start, the Foxes settled and one moment of magic had the Gulls behind. A looping ball in the left channel possibly could have been cleared by Oastler but Dyer was alert to the chance with a clever touch inside United’s right-back. The Leicester winger then swiftly rounded Poke and slotted home for a simple opener.
It was harsh on the boys in Yellow and Mansell immediately forced a clawing save from Schmeichel, but the painful truth was that one lapse in concentration had been ruthlessly punished by the Championship visitors.
The two sets of players then indulged in a period of mild reflection as the summer drizzle greased up the playing surface at Plainmoor and the ball began fizzing around with some inaccurate passing by both sides.
The game once again changed on a flash from brilliance by the visitors and Marshall took centre-stage, steering a wonderful whipped free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards. It was a great goal and a mountain for the Gulls to climb.
United huffed and puffed for the remainder of the first period, with Howe in particular, taking a heavy battering from a robust Leicester defence, and half-time would certainly be a puzzler for the coaching staff.
If the second-half strategy was for the Gulls to attack, Leicester were eavesdropping, and the score was very quickly insurmountable. Beckford had already forced a save from Poke before his deft pass found the run of James.
The energetic midfielder had the freedom of United’s penalty area to steer the ball easily past Poke and Vardy nearly made it 4-0 a minute later, but the Yellow ‘keeper was mercifully in the right place to block.
Sadly for the Gulls, Leicester continued to pick holes in the defence and Beckford again bore down on Poke after an incisive through ball, but the ‘keeper read the intentions of the former Everton and Leeds striker to make a terrific save.
It was time for a change, and the manager turned to the explosive pace of Niall Thompson for the youngster’s debut. Easton was the man sacrificed as the home team also switched to a 4-4-2 formation.
Nugent was also introduced for Dyer by the Leicester boss but the new man skewed a shot woefully wide with his first touch. United’s next change was to draft in Thomas Cruise for his debut in place of Morris.
Poke was again called into action with 15 minutes remaining, palming away a low shot from Danny Drinkwater. Ling then made his final change of the night, turning to Ashley Yeoman for the final few minutes, with Jarvis the man replaced.
Unfortunately, the fourth official had barely put down his board when Vardy made it four, glancing into an empty net from a long ball by Marshall. It was the easiest goal of the night after a poor misjudgement from United’s stopper.
The home side never stopped running and Howe, who worked particularly hard, squirmed a late shot narrowly wide, but this was Leicester’s night on the Riviera.
Gulls (4-3-3): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 6 Damon Lathrope, 18 Craig Easton (29 Niall Thompson 64); 8 Ryan Jarvis (23 Ashley Yeoman 76), 9 Rene Howe, 11 Ian Morris (21 Thomas Cruise 72). Substitutes (not used): 12 Daniel Leadbitter, Martin Rice (GK), 20 Nathan Craig, 30 Kirtys MacKenzie.
Leicester (4-4-2): 1 Kasper Schmeichel; 2 Ritchie De Laet, 5 Wes Morgan (capt), 22 Liam Moore, 3 Paul Konchesky; 7 Ben Marshall, 4 Danny Drinkwater (8 Neil Danns 78), 16 Matty James (10 Andy King 74), 11 Lloyd Dyer (35 David Nugent 67); 9 Jamie Vardy, 20 Jermaine Beckford. Substitutes (not used): 13 Conrad Logan (GK), 14 Martyn Waghorn, 17 Paul Gallagher, 18 Jeff Schlupp.
Referee: Oliver Langford
Attendance: 3,367 (1,166 away).