After a ten year absence Leicester City look set to start next season in England’s top flight.
In the end it has all appeared rather simple for Nigel Pearson’s side as they have pulled away from the chasing pack since Christmas and this weekend they could seal automatic promotion to the Premier League with time to spare.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however, and we look at five games during the course of the season where Leicester have had to show a variety of different qualities to prove themselves deserving of a place amongst England’s elite from August.
3rd August – Middlesbrough 1-2 Leicester
Having suffered play-off agony last season, the Foxes needed a good start to ensure any hangover from that disappointment was nipped in the bud. An away game at Middlesbrough then was not the fixture they were hoping for.
At 1-0 down at half-time, things weren’t looking good for Nigel Pearson’s side and with an hour gone they still trailed as a result of Sean St Ledger’s own goal. However, two goals in seven minutes turned the game on its head.
A powerful strike from Danny Drinkwater drew Leicester level before a neat move ended with David Nugent playing in Jamie Vardy to lift the ball over the onrushing keeper to make it 2-1. The visitors had chances to add a third but ultimately it mattered not as they held out for an important opening day win.
2nd November – Watford 0-3 Leicester
Leicester arrived at Vicarage Road in good form having won their last three, including a last gasp victory over Premier League Fulham in the Capital One Cup in the days preceding the match, whilst Gianfranco Zola’s Watford were struggling to repeat their form of the previous season.
The talk before the match, however, was all about the previous encounter between the sides on this ground. With just moments remaining in the play-off semi-final Leicester were awarded a penalty. Score and they were through. However, Manuel Almunia saved Anthony Knockaert’s penalty, Watford broke and Troy Deeney scored the goal to send the Hornets to Wembley instead.
Any demons that the Foxes had were soon cast aside though as they dominated from start to finish. Chris Wood got the rather fortuitous opener and Lloyd Dyer completed a 3-0 late on but it is the second goal that will have most pleased Leicester fans. Last season’s villain Knockaert lashing the ball home from Jeffrey Schlupps’s pull back. His subsequent celebration showed how much it meant to him. A major psychological hurdle cleared.
21st December – QPR 0-1 Leicester
Nigel Pearson’s side arrived at QPR without a win in four games, losing away at Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton, drawing with Burnley and defeated at home by Manchester City in the Captial One Cup. High flying Rangers would provide another stern test as the aimed to reaffirm their status as genuine promotion contenders.
The home side knew they could go six points clear of Leicester at the top of the table with a win and the mathematicians amongst will realise that that meant a victory would see the visitors move level on points with Harry Redknapp’s team. A pre-Christmas cracker was expected.
As it was a solitary goal settled matters. Jamie Vardy was the match-winner hammering the ball home from a tight angle at the end of a first half dominated by QPR. That it was against the run of play mattered not a jot to Leicester, they had weathered the storm and got their reward. It was more of the same in the second period but the hosts couldn’t find the goal, their frustrated compounded by Joey Barton’s late red card. For Leicester though the determination and defensive solidity they showed proved enough to beat their big spending title rivals.
10th January – Leicester 4-1 Derby
Both sides came into this East Midlands derby in good form and hopes of promotion. The Foxes had pushed on after their win at Loftus Road to win their next three Championship games and push Stoke close in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Derby, meanwhile, had been rejuvenated by new manager Steve McClaren and were expected to provide a real test of Leicester’s promotion credentials.
It was a test they passed with flying colours. Richie De Laet’s goal gave the hosts a half-time lead at the King Power Stadium but in truth the 1-0 scoreline flattered the Rams. Jamie Vardy and Liam Moore had struck the woodwork for Leicester and the visitors had barely had a sniff in the 45 minutes.
After the break a brace from David Nugent and a Vardy strike ensured the scoreline provided a truer reflection of the match as a whole. De Laet had put through his own net to give Derby hope at 2-1 but Leicester didn’t panic and simply went about adding to their lead once more. It was a consummate performance befitting of a side chasing automatic promotion to England’s top flight.
29th March – Burnley 0-2 Leicester
The top two in the division met at Turf Moor with Leicester comfortably clear at the top and promotion to the top flight seeming like a formality. However, second placed Burnley went into the game undefeated on home soil in the league this season and arguably more in need of the points than the visitors as they aimed to cement their own place in the automatic promotion places.
Nigel Pearson’s side were in no mood for doing any favours, however, and led at half-time thanks to a David Nugent goal. With the Lancastrians missing top scorer Danny Ings through injury and Sam Vokes joining him on the sidelines after suffering a knock of his own in the first half, Burnley lacked the firepower to really trouble Leicester and too often fluffed their lines when they did.
Chris Wood made Sean Dyche’s team pay with a superb late strike to seal the win and extend Leicester lead at the top of the Championship table. They had done what no other side had managed and beaten Burnley on their own patch, any signs of complacency or nerves as they near the finish line was not in evidence here. The Foxes knew they were close to the promised land and having thrived rather than choke when it really mattered this season more than deserve to line up alongside England’s elite next season.