Pre-season last year was an exciting time to be a Leicester City fan. Not only was there a high profile friendly against one of the world’s giants –Real Madrid- but there were many key, high profile signings including Jermaine Beckford; Kasper Schmeichel; and David Nugent. In addition to this, Leicester had one of the world’s most well-known managers in the world – ex-England manager Sven Gorran Eriksson. So foxes fans had much to look forward in the upcoming season.
So where did it go so wrong?
A quarter of the way through the season, Leicester were still outside the play off zone, having succeeded in not touching it once since beating Coventry 1-0 at the Ricoh at the start of the season. Frustrations were running high in foxes fans and more so in the owners, and finally their patience snapped after a humiliating 3-0 defeat to low leaguers Millwall. Leicester were left managerless, and not before crucial games including hot favourites -just in front of Leicester in terms of odds to win the league- West Ham. So who was to be their knight in shining armour?None other than Nigel Pearson, the same man who left to join Hull City just a season and a half ago.
He had a mountain to climb, and briefly did. He managed to win two games and a draw in his first three games, and sneak inside the play offs momentarily. But then Leicester stalled yet again. The team just wasn’t gelling properly. The back four were being mixed and reshuffled like a pack of cards, and matters were made worst when -record signing- Matt Mills had a falling out with the manager. Then Sol Bamba left for the Africa Cup of Nations, so Nigel invested money wisely in the form of Nottingham Forest’s solid centre-back Wes Morgan. And he also invested in Danny Drinkwater, a midfielder who many see as strong veteran Ritchie Wellens’s replacement. He completed his January transfer proceedings with Ben Marshall, a tidy, quick winger who has a lethal free kick, and is not afraid to shoot from 30 yards out.
So could we do it, reach the play offs and gain promotion? In brief, no. We finished a resounding ninth in the league, nine points outside the play offs. Pearson and the team had to deal with a huge amount of criticism and anger as the season drew to a close, but both shrugged it off and were being to prepare for the new season.
I for one, knew from the moment we sacked Sven, we were not going to make promotion. This is not because I don’t believe Nigel Pearson can do it, I know he can, I’ve seen him do it. It was because the way Sven was playing the team, and the players he was using were completely different to Nigel’s plan. Gallagher and Dyer were left excluded for most of Sven’s reign, and were used for the majority of Nigel’s. Many Leicester fans didn’t agree with Sven’s 4-3-3, but he stuck with it. Nigel came along and used 4-4-2 from the beginning and never changed until the Crystal Palace game where he was forced to play 3-5-2 because of injuries to the full backs. Our team at the end of the season looked different from the beginning. The striking partnership between Nugent and Beckford was starting to form something spectacular and the midfield was looking finally like it could hold it’s own. The defence was the only thing people were questioning, and not for the first time.
So entering the new season, Nigel knew he had to bring in some quality players. And he has. Our scouts are top of the range, and they brought in some excellent signings. Jamie Vardy – top goal scorer in the Conference with Fleetwood Town; Ritchie De Laet- former Manchester United Right Back, can also play centre back, he is quick and talented; Matty James- not much is known about him but he is a midfielder and has previously shown real promise; Zak Whitbread- ex-Norwich centre back who won’t feature in Leicester’s first few games because of lack of fitness and injury; Marko Futacs- A strong forward signed from Portsmouth, a replacement for veteran Steve Howard; and Knonckeart- a player who I and many Leicester fans have never heard of, but he was signed from Ligue 2 and is a pacey midfielder. They are hungry players, keen for games and for success.
But is it a recipe for success? I think so.
This season we have been tipped – yet again – as promotion favourites, and are second favourites behind Bolton to win the league. The major problem was pressure – the players couldn’t cope. This season though, we have a wealth of experienced players, a team which has now played for a whole season together and additions which have proven to be successful. Apart from a blunder at Shrewsbury Town – where we were outplayed and beaten 2-0 – Nigel has experimented with various players and now I think he may have figured out a winning, successful team. While he may have defence and midfield sorted out, I believe his striking partnership will be difficult to choose.
Now I question whether Nugent will start, but I think he will. I think really, it’s down to a tug of war between Beckford and Vardy for the second forward position. Beckford, a proven striker, our top goal scorer last season, skilful and frighteningly quick is top contender and my personal choice. But Vardy has a firm foot in this race as he too is a proven goalscorer and very quick but is an obvious gamble as he hasn’t played in a Football League. Futacs, Waghorn and Schlupp will be battling it out for the places on the bench, although Schlupp may be loaned out at some point this season.
I think though, even with strong League One sides coming up, and even stronger Premiership sides coming down, this year will be a season thrilling to watch, with so many teams keen to enter those top six positions. Leicester I think this season will live up to expectations and get promotion. I expect a top 10 finish at the least, but I am secretly hoping for fifth or sixth position. And I think we will have an even better goals tally at the end of this season. Onwards and upwards I hope, with the backing of all Leicester fans behind you, I wish the team every success.
Come On You Foxes!