Leicester City were dealt a potentially fatal blow to their play-off aspirations at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate, as the home team recorded a hard fought 3-2 win over the visiting Foxes.
Hopes were high for the travellers going into the fixture, after back to back wins for the first time in over a year against Derby and Coventry had seen us rise to tenth in the league, just four places shy of the coveted play-off places, with a run of form widely expected to be catalysed against a lowly Bristol team; winless in seven games and hovering perilously two points above the relegation zone.
The game started slowly, with the an array of half-hearted efforts on the opposing goalkeepers baring no fruit for either Derek McInnes’ or Nigel Pearson’s squad. The only excitement in the opening fifteen minutes of the half came from a seemingly card-happy referee Mark Haywood, who brandished yellow cards for both Leicester’s Ritchie Wellens after a dangerous tackle on a lively looking Kalifa Cisse, and Bristol City’s Jon Stead for a display of unsporting behaviour on the back of being penalised for a foul on Lloyd Dyer. It wouldn’t be long until both Dyer and Stead established themselves as the stand-out players of the half, with a goal-shy Stead worrying a shakey Leicester back four (absent of Paul Konchesky through suspension) with a number of efforts, including a rasping shot on target in the twenty-first minute, defused eventually by a focused Kasper Schmeichel in-between the sticks. Dyer ran the show for City in many ways during the half; attacking Jamie McAllister and Liam Fontaine in the Bristol defensive ranks often with success, resulting in a number of promising crosses which failed to meet the awaiting David Nugent and Jermaine Beckford. However, it wasn’t long until Dyer’s efforts were fulfilled; a close range effort from the winger rifling into the net of David James’ goalmouth from close range, to send the visitors 1-0 up late into the first half. An air of complacency swept across the Foxes’ ranks as the game imminently approached half time, with lacklustre defensive work from Wes Morgan being the epicentre of Bristol’s equaliser; Kalifia Cisse slotting past Schmeichel from within the six-yard box after an assist by Jon Stead to send the home side level going into the break.
After an exciting climax to the games opening half, the proceeding forty five minutes promised to be something of a goal-fest, with both teams desperate to claim glory and momentum for their contrasting motives in the N-Power Championship. Such a half was in doubt initially on the back of half-time however, with a slow and pace-less showing from both sides reminiscent of that in the first half, showing all the hallmarks of two teams ridden with nerves. The match soon regained it’s end-to-end identity though, with Ben Marshall stepping up for Leicester with a number of prosperous runs on the right wing threatening to interrupt James’ otherwise tranquil goalmouth. However, it was Bristol who took the lead on fifty three minutes with another close range goal courtesy of former Bournemouth hit-man Bret Pitman, after good work by Stephen Pearson to cater for Pitman’s right foot shot.
Bristol’s second of the match sent Leicester into a flurry of attack, as efforts by an in-form Neil Danns, Nugent and Dyer for the visitors were swept aside by former England international James. Leicester eventually drew level in the seventy sixth minute of the hotly contested affair, as an in-swinging cross by Tom Kennedy, was misjudged by David James’ flailing arms, and met with the expectant right boot of Neil Danns to draw the foxes level from within six yards of the goal-line. With the game in the balance, it became second knowledge that Leicester would be the team to push on for the three points, only for predictions and expectations to be once again wiped out by another successful Bristol counter attack; this time Jon Stead turning goal scorer and Pitman provider, after the latter’s effort hit the woodwork on the back of a woeful Leicester defensive effort, and Stead there to pick up the pieces to send his team into a 3-2 lead with merely ten minutes remaining of the match. Despite the best efforts of David Nugent’s frantically taken shot and Danny Drinkwater’s free kick, Bristol City managed to hold back the Leicester tirade and sent the Ashton Gate hopeful in raptures as referee Mark Haywood blew his overused for full time.
With Nottingham Forest losing at home at Doncaster, and Coventry stumbling to a draw at home against Crystal Palace, Bristol’s first win in seven games really can be dubbed a ‘six pointer’ as they drew themselves further adrift of the relegation zone and closer towards Championship survival.
The word ‘adrift’ can also be likened to Leicester City’s affairs, as our promotion challenge suffered what is becoming a regular malfunction with a loss against a lowly side in the league, on a night where results went our way in the form of Leeds United (10th), and Crystal Palace (12th) succumbing to a 0-0 draw, leaving Nigel Pearson’s men ruing a missed opportunity, seven points away from the expectancy of the play-off’s, and a mountainous challenge towards the peak of the Premier League no amount of Thai investment can seemingly aid.
Bristol City: James, McAllister, Fontaine, Carey, McManus, Cisse, Foster, Bryan (Adomah-69′), Pearson, Stead (Wood-81′), Pitman (Kilkenny-84′)
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Peltier, Morgan, St.Ledger, Kennedy, Dyer, Wellens, Danns (Gallagher-87′), Marshall (Drinkwater-60′), Beckford (Schlupp-60′), Nugent