Why Leicester City should remain fearless during the Christmas period

Leicester City’s 2015-16 Premier League season has been nothing short of a fairy tale.  Favourites for relegation after an offseason which saw the club part ways with Nigel Pearson, the man who steered the Foxes to survival after spending four and a half months at the foot of the table, Leicester have set the top flight of English football alight with a string of scintillating performances under current manager Claudio Ranieri and find themselves top of the Premier League table going into the Christmas period.  Even the most optimistic Leicester City fan would not have predicted such a strong first half to the season.

Whether Leicester can realistically challenge for the Premier League title has been a real talking point, but there is no reason to think that this side is any more likely to lose ground than the supposed favourites.  December was considered to be the month during which Leicester would face tougher tests from stronger league opposition, but the Foxes have already taken 10 points from four games, including wins against Chelsea and Everton.  Many pundits have suggested that Leicester must beat the top teams to be in with a chance of winning the title, but such logic does not prevail when Manchester City lose to Everton and West Ham United – two sides Leicester City have already beaten on the road this season.

Although Leicester City may never find themselves with a better opportunity to push for the title, they go into the second half of this season without facing the media pressure that Arsenal and Manchester City will come up against.  Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, two of the league’s top prospects – and likely January transfer window targets – have a combined 28 top-flight goals this season and continue in a rich vein of form which shows no real sign of faltering.  Foxes fans will have been very pleased to hear Claudio Ranieri publicly stating that neither player is for sale at any price, and it is hard to see why either would want to leave for pastures new.

Whilst Vardy and Mahrez will take most of the plaudits for an astonishing first-half to this Premier League campaign, both players will be the first to acknowledge their teammates who have been as instrumental to Leicester’s success.  N’Golo Kante – a relative steal at £5.6 million – may have performed better than any other top-flight central midfielder so far this season, and his ability to not only adapt quickly to life in the Premier League, but his understanding of the game and positional play has not gone unnoticed by Ranieri and Foxes fans alike – especially given the loss of Esteban Cambiasso over the summer had been such a cause for concern.

Despite Cambiasso’s exit from the East Midlands, Danny Drinkwater continues to embody many of the positive attributes which the decorated Argentine displayed during Leicester’s remarkable second half of last season.  Last year will have been frustrating for the former Manchester United player, but his obvious development is a sign that a lack of game time certainly was not time wasted.  Foxes fans will be hopeful that the hamstring injury picked up against Chelsea will not keep the midfielder side-lined for too long.

An improving and relatively unheralded defence has only conceded four goals in the last five games (having previously shipped 20 goals in the first 13 games).  Many picked out Wes Morgan as the weak link in Leicester’s back line last year, and even at the beginning of this season, but the captain’s recent performances have been crucial in maintaining Leicester’s continued momentum.  Full-backs Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson have played at a consistently high level, despite finding themselves outside of the starting XI at the beginning of this season – another example of players making the most of the opportunities handed to them.

In short, the key to Leicester’s success is more than down to just one or two key players.  It is a result of the positivity and fearlessness shown by the entire squad, and by the coaching staff.  Claudio Ranieri continues to manage expectation by telling the media that Leicester’s target is 40 points – a total that nobody had predicted that this club might well achieve before the New Year – but it is obvious that every player in that dressing room is taking this season one game at a time before getting at all carried away.  While a Boxing Day clash against Liverpool at Anfield seems like a lump of coal from the scheduling gods, Leicester City have not lost a Premier League match in a nine-month stretch dating back to the end of March 2015 (W8, D4) and have no reason to approach this match any differently.  Like their fans, the players should enjoy this moment – but should certainly show their opposition no respect based on club stature and history.

To experience a spell such as this can only truly be appreciated when a club has been through difficult times in the last several years; relegation to League One, Championship playoff heartbreak on two separate occasions, and last season’s horrendous run of form in the top flight. Leicester fans can be forgiven for enjoying this moment – as who knows how long it might last.

The Greatest Escape

Leicester City’s top flight status for next season was confirmed on Saturday following a goalless draw against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.  After an astonishing run of results, including six wins out of seven, the way in which the Foxes secured safety was almost anticlimactic – but that won’t bother anybody associated with this football club even in the slightest.  Other results around the league certainly favoured the Foxes over the weekend, but nothing can be taken away from what Nigel Pearson and Leicester City have achieved themselves over the last eight games of the season.

After a blistering start to their Premier League campaign which saw the Foxes pick up 8 points from their opening five matches – including an incredible 5-3 victory over Manchester United – Leicester struggled for results, losing eleven of their following thirteen league games, during which time Nigel Pearson’s men accumulated just two points from a possible 39 and were rooted to the bottom of the table from the end of November.  While being labelled as ‘unlucky’ by a number of pundits, and that their results were not always a reflection on the performances, Leicester City had been written off as relegated even before Christmas.

Despite picking up seven points out of a possible nine over the festive period, Leicester’s struggles continued as they went another eight games without a win.  Following a 4-3 loss at White Hart Lane, the Foxes were seven points adrift of safety heading into April.  But just eight games later, Nigel Pearson’s men can enjoy their final game of this Premier League campaign at the King Power Stadium against Queens Park Rangers, previously determined to be potentially Leicester’s most important fixture of the season, knowing they will be playing in the top tier of English football again next year.  It has been the greatest escape in Premier League history.

Even non-Leicester City supporters would struggle to argue against how impressive a turnaround Nigel Pearson has orchestrated since the beginning of April.  Their form over the last ten games has been bettered only by Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal – who boast first, second and third place in the Premier League.  Pearson may have had his critics for the run of form which led Leicester to prop up the other nineteen teams for 140 days – and there will be time to reflect on that over the summer – but he must receive huge credit for the character and togetherness which exists within this squad, and for not letting his players become distracted by the pressure of the situation.

Each of their last eight games, from which Leicester took 19 out of a possible 24 points, was certainly no given thing.  The turnaround began on 4 April at the King Power Stadium with a 2-1 victory over at-the-time ninth-placed West Ham United, followed by a remarkable 3-2 win over fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion.  A 2-0 victory over Swansea lifted the Foxes off the bottom, and a scrappy win at Turf Moor saw Leicester climb out of the relegation zone for the first time since 22 November.  Despite losing their game in hand when the champions elect Chelsea came to town, the Foxes responded admirably with back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Southampton, before picking up a point against Sunderland on Saturday to guarantee survival.  Of those eight games, four of the teams played were very much in a relegation battle (and two still are), and two teams continue to push for European football next year.  For Leicester City to hit red-hot form at the time that they did and to beat teams still with something to play for is something that everybody associated with the football club should be immensely proud for.

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Possibly the most remarkable statistic is how defensively solid Leicester have been during this run of form.  With 54 goals conceded, their overall record this season ranks as one of the worst in the league, but the Foxes have conceded just six goals in their last eight.  Only Chelsea and Arsenal have conceded fewer goals in that time.  The loan signing of the experienced Robert Huth is undoubtedly accountable for Leicester’s recently stingy defensive record (the Foxes have not conceded a Premier League goal in 548 minutes while Huth has been on the pitch).  At the other end of the pitch, Leicester have been in excellent goal-scoring form during the same period, having found the net fourteen times, and scoring at least two goals in five of their last eight matches.  Only Manchester City have a better record in front of goal during this time.  In short, Leicester have performed far, far better than the teams around them over the last two months – and achieved as much as some of the teams who will be playing Champions League football next season.

With the opportunity to finish thirteenth in the Premier League and with a final points tally of 41, Leicester City will undoubtedly want to end the season on a high note against Queens Park Rangers this Saturday in front of a sell-out crowd at the King Power Stadium.  But after another roller-coaster season, this is one game for Nigel Pearson and his team where the pressure, deservedly, will be off.

Leicester City 2 Southampton 0 – 9 May 2015

Riyad Mahrez scored two first-half goals to boost Leicester City’s survival hopes with a deserved win over Southampton this afternoon.

The Algerian international put the Foxes ahead after seven minutes after picking the ball up in midfield and finding the bottom corner of the net with a cool finish from eighteen yards.

Mahrez doubled Leicester’s tally just twelve minutes later when he poked home from close range after excellent work from Jamie Vardy.

The visitors enjoyed much of the possession in the second half but were unable to break down a resolute and disciplined Leicester City backline, commanded by the impressive Robert Huth.

It was a sixth win in seven for Nigel Pearson’s side who continue their astonishing escape from the Premier League’s bottom three, and now find themselves in fifteenth place – three points above Hull City, and with a superior goal difference – with just two games remaining.

The only dampener on the day for April’s Manager of the Month was watching Matty James being carried off the field on a stretcher after suffering what appeared to be a nasty knee injury early in the first half.

Pearson named an unchanged starting XI from last weekend’s season-best 3-0 victory over Newcastle United, with David Nugent named back among the replacements after recovering from injury.

Leicester started the match at a high tempo, although it was the visitors who had the first opportunity to open the scoring when Saido Mané almost broke through the Foxes’ defense, but Marc Albrighton’s excellently timed tackle was enough to thwart the Senegalese international.

Moments later, the home side were ahead when Leonardo Ulloa nodded the ball to Riyad Mahrez for the tricky winger to reach the edge of the Saints’ penalty area before firing into the bottom corner past Paulo Gazzaniga.

It was a neat finish from Mahrez who had not found the net since December 2014 and a perfect way to put the visitors, who hold the second best defensive record in the Premier League, on the back foot.

Spirits were high at the King Power Stadium but in the thirteen minute, Matty James took an awkward fall after appearing to catch his foot in the turf while defending against Ryan Bertrand – a moment which caused a lengthy delay in the match and was later confirmed as a knee injury.

However, Leicester remained focused, and shortly after Danny Drinkwater replaced James in the centre of midfield, the Foxes doubled their lead when Jamie Vardy burst past Nathaniel Clyne and fired a cross into the Southampton six yard box for Mahrez to poke the ball past Gazzaniga for his – and Leicester’s – second of the match.

It was goal which typified Leicester City’s performances over the last six weeks, with Vardy relentlessly pressing the opposition and breaking quickly in attack, and attacking players finding themselves in the right place at the right time.

The visitors looked stunned but did try to find a way back into the match, with Harrison Reed seeing his long range effort punched away by Kasper Schmeichel, before Mane headed over the crossbar shortly after.

Leicester might have put the game out of sight with ten minutes of the first half remaining when Mahrez pierced the Saints’ defense with a pass to Jamie Vardy, but the former Fleetwood Town man was denied by the legs of Gazzaniga.

Toby Alderweireld’s free kick was tipped over the bar by Kasper Schmeichel as the first half came to a close, as the Foxes left the field of play to rapturous applause by the Blue Army.

Southampton began the second half enjoying the lion’s share of possession, as they had done in the first, but were unable to find a way through a wall of Leicester City players, this time with Wes Morgan executing a well-timed tackle to deny Mane breaking into the penalty area.

Mahrez could have grabbed his hat-trick with just under an hour played when he picked up a loose defensive clearance outside the penalty area, but could only drag his shot wide of the near post.

Esteban Cambiasso then had a shot comfortably saved by Gazzaniga before the ever-dangerous Jamie Vardy broke on the counter attack, but could not release the ball to Mahrez who was unmarked on the edge of the box.

With fifteen minutes remaining, Cambiasso hit the side netting after good work from Jeff Schlupp and Marc Albrighton, but the visitors lacked bite going forward as the second half drew to a close.

Leicester held out for their fourth clean sheet in five matches and their sixth win in seven matches, as they climb to fifteenth in the Premier League table, knowing that a win at Sunderland next weekend would all but seal their top-flight status for another year.

Man of the Match – Riyad Mahrez

Leicester City 2 Swansea City 0 – 18 April 2015

Leicester City beat Swansea City to secure a third consecutive Premier League win and to move off the bottom of the table for the first time in 2015.

The Foxes took the lead after a blistering start when Leo Ulloa smashed the ball past Lukasz Fabianski from ten yards after excellent hold up play from Wes Morgan.

But Swansea improved after the break and came closest to drawing level through Nelson Oliveira, with Kasper Schmeichel pulling off an excellent save to deny the Portuguese international.

The three points were secured late in the second half when Fabianksi fumbled Esteban Cambiasso’s free kick and Andy King reacted quickest to double Leicester’s advantage.

It was a deserved win for the Foxes who climb two places to 18th, having been rooted to the foot of the Premier League table since 29 November 2014, and the players will now have real belief that they can escape relegation to the Championship having once been seven points adrift at the bottom.

Nigel Pearson made three changes to the starting eleven that beat West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns last weekend, bringing in Andy King, Marcin Wasilewski and Andrej Kramaric for Matty James, Ritchie De Laet, and David Nugent.

Leicester began the match at lightning pace, closing down Swansea at every given opportunity and putting them under pressure from the kick-off, and were rewarded with a quarter of an hour played when Foxes’ captain Wes Morgan latched on to a hanging cross into the Swans’ penalty area, and showing real strength to hold the ball up for Leo Ulloa to fire the ball into the bottom corner.

It was a smart finish from Ulloa, who was originally due to start on as a substitute, for his tenth goal of the season in all competitions, and a perfect example of how clinical the Argentine can be.

The home fans were in fine voice as Leicester continued the first half with real intensity, preventing Swansea from adopting their favoured brand of football and playing the ball out from the back, and Nigel Pearson’s men almost doubled their lead when Marc Albrighton cut inside onto his left foot, but the former Villa man was unable to bend his shot inside Lukasz Fabianski’s far post.

At the other end, Jonjo Shelvey saw his shot blocked by Esteban Cambiasso, before firing over from 20 yards, and Gylfi Sigurdsson tested Kasper Schmeichel with a shot on target which the Dane was more than equal to.

With ten minutes to go before half time, Wayne Routledge latched on to a dangerous early cross into the Leicester penalty area, but Marc Albrighton’s superbly timed challenge thwarted the pacey winger and cleared the danger.

Leicester started the second half as they had begun the first, with Albrighton and Kramaric looking to find sight of goal in quick succession, but Swansea quickly gained more of a foothold in the match and came close to breaking the deadlock through Jonjo Shelvey, but Kasper Schmeichel did well to parry his curling effort away from danger.

The introduction of Jefferson Montero gave Swansea added impetus down the left-hand side, but it was Nelson Oliveira who came closest for the visitors when he cut past Robert Huth inside the Foxes’ penalty area, but Kasper Schmeichel was off his line quickly to deny the former Benfica man with a smart save.

Swansea were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession as the second half continued, but Leicester were lightning fast on the counter attack and could have added a second when Jamie Vardy broke through the heart of the Swansea midfield, but with the Foxes in a two-on-one situation, the weight of Vardy’s pass was slightly too heavy for substitute Riyad Mahrez who saw his chipped effort saved by Fabianski.

Leicester were then denied a penalty when Ashley Williams appeared to push Jamie Vardy inside the area without playing the ball, but referee Lee Probert waved away the protests of the home side.

With seven minutes remaining, Riyad Mahrez saw his low effort tipped around the post by Fabianski as Leicester looked to seal the win with a second goal.

But the Foxes finally made sure of the three points in the 89th minute when Esteban Cambiasso’s free kick was bobbled by Fabianski, and Andy King was quickest to react to stab the ball into the net from close range for Leicester’s second of the match, sending the home fans into raptures.

It was an instinctive finish from King who has now scored two goals in his last three games, and one which capped a fine display from the Welsh international.

Leicester saw out the remainder of the match as confidently as they had started it, and with their third successive win, are now in as good a position as they have been in months to maintain their Premier League status – and now have the momentum and belief to do just that.

Man of the match – Esteban Cambiasso

Leicester City 2 West Ham United 1 – 4 April 2015

Andy King’s dramatic late winner gave Leicester City a crucial win over West Ham United and sparked new life into the Foxes’ fight against relegation.

Leicester took an early lead through Esteban Cambiasso’s 20-yard volley, and were given the opportunity moments later to double their advantage from the spot when Leo Ulloa was brought down by Carl Jenkinson – but David Nugent saw his penalty kick turned away by Adrian in the West Ham goal.

After a period of sustained pressure, the visitors grabbed an equaliser just after the half hour mark when Cheikou Kouyaté fired past Kasper Schmeichel from a tight angle after Jeff Schlupp had misjudged Alex Song’s cross into the Leicester penalty area.

The game opened up in the second half with both sides creating chances to take the lead – Leicester coming close through substitute Andrej Kramarić who saw a powerful effort cleared off the line, and Kouyaté striking the post for the Hammers.

But it was Nigel Pearson’s men who would come out on top when Andy King steered Jamie Vardy’s shot past Adrian with four minutes left to play, securing a massive three points for the Foxes.

Other results mean that Leicester remain at the foot of the table, but are now just four points from safety with eight games still to be played.

Nigel Pearson made one change from the side that lost 4-3 at White Hart Lane, bringing in Riyad Mahrez for the injured Matthew Upson, and it was Mahrez who created the first chance of the match for the home side after linking up well with the lively Jamie Vardy, before finding Leo Ulloa who fired over from distance.

And having begun the first half with real energy, the home side were ahead after twelve minutes when Esteban Cambiasso fired a superb 20-yard volley past Adrian in the West Ham goal.

It was a deserved lead for Leicester and a goal that would begin a complete performance from the former Argentine international.

Leicester were then awarded a penalty just moments after the restart when Leo Ulloa was brought down inside the box by former Arsenal man Carl Jenkinson after another speedy break from the home side.

However, the opportunity to add a second goal went begging as Adrian guessed correctly to parry David Nugent’s spot kick away from danger.

That moment in the match gave the visitors real impetus to take the game to Leicester and came close to drawing level through Diafra Sakho, but Jeff Schlupp was well-placed to clear his header off the line.

The Hammers continued to press for an equaliser and came close again through Sakho – this time Esteban Cambiasso coming to Leicester’s rescue – and then through Kevin Nolan who headed well wide after teammate Stewart Downing had picked him out with a pinpoint first-time cross.

But with just over 30 minutes played, West Ham found themselves level when Alex Song picked out Cheikou Kouyaté at the back post, who controlled well and drilled the ball into Kasper Schmeichel’s far corner.

It was a strong finish by Kouyaté, although Jeff Schlupp will have been disappointed with his positioning in allowing his man so much time and space in such a dangerous position.

Leicester continued to play some excellent football but could not turn their possession into chances, with Matty James firing over from distance.

The second half saw Marc Albrighton replacing Riyad Mahrez on the right wing as Leicester continued in search of a second goal, and the Foxes might have taken the lead when Esteban Cambiasso’s free-kick found Robert Huth, but the former Chelsea centre-back could not steer his header on target.

With just over an hour played, Jamie Vardy’s direct run found David Nugent, who laid the ball off to the onrushing Jeff Schlupp, but the Ghanaian’s left-footed strike from a difficult angle flew well wide of Adrian’s near post.

The Foxes might have had another penalty awarded when Jeff Schlupp’s cross appeared to strike the raised arm of Stewart Downing, but referee Mark Clattenburg waved away any protests.

Jamie Vardy then hit the woodwork with a header and fired wide of the far post in quick succession, before Cheikou Kouyaté hit the inside of Kasper Schmeichel’s post at the other end.

Schmeichel then had to be at his best to tip away a swerving strike with just under fifteen minutes left to play, before substitute Andrej Kramarić saw his goal-bound effort cleared off the line by a combination of Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell.

Leicester would eventually be rewarded for their persistence and attacking threat when Jamie Vardy’s low effort fell into the path of another substitute, Andy King, who scrambled the ball into the bottom corner of the net to send the home fans into delirium.

It was far from the prettiest goal Nigel Pearson’s men had scored this season, but could prove to be one of the most important, giving the Foxes a 2-1 lead with four minutes remaining.

Jamie Vardy could have added a third in second-half stoppage time but his one-on-one effort was well-saved by Adrian – however, the final whistle just moments later gave Leicester a crucial – and well-deserved – three points in their bid to remain in the top flight of English football.

Man of the match – Esteban Cambiasso

Stability over survival: is there more to football than the Premier League?

A Sunday evening social media frenzy gave Leicester City supporters a very real glimpse as to what life would be like without Nigel Pearson at as manager of their football club – and for the majority of those supporters, it was not pretty.

Sky Sports and a number of online newspapers had broken the story last night that Nigel Pearson had been sacked as Leicester City manager.  After several hours of silence, the club released a statement confirming that this was not the case, and that “reports to the contrary [were] inaccurate and without foundation”.  The time in between was agonising for Leicester City and Nigel Pearson supporters, who had to consider the very real prospect of a replacement (and likely to be currently out of work) manager – at this stage of the season.

Nigel Pearson’s altercation with James McArthur during Leicester’s 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday was regrettable and somewhat unsavoury, but it also gave the media – and fans who have been losing patience with Pearson – further ammunition to suggest that it was time for him and the club to part ways.  With upcoming games away at Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City, it seemed believable that Pearson’s departure had been confirmed, until the club issued a report to confirm the opposite.

The reality is that relegation is a very real possibility for Leicester City this season.  In all likelihood, the club needs to win at least five of their remaining fourteen fixtures to stand a chance of maintaining their Premier League status in May.  The Foxes have dropped points against other struggling teams facing a battle for top-flight survival over the next few months (notably at home against Burnley and West Bromwich Albion, and away at Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa).  It could even be argued that a positive FA Cup run has paved over the cracks of a terrible run of results dating back to Leicester’s 5-3 win over Manchester United at the end of September 2014.

There is an argument that Leicester City has the right owners, stadium, facilities and history to be a top flight team.  A number of fans believe that Leicester has a Premier League pedigree, and that the club is currently where they belong.  The truth is that none of that means anything, and you can only consider yourself a Premier League club based on where you are now – not where you were ten to fifteen years ago.  Leicester City has been a Championship club for nine of the last eleven seasons.

But is there more to football than the Premier League?  In this era, many consider any alternative to be unthinkable.  Another reality is that there are only 20 places in the top flight of English football, and not being amongst those 20 places does not necessarily indicate a bad team or a bad manager.  If the Foxes were to get relegated this season, would it really be a smart decision for the club to replace Nigel Pearson, bearing in mind that he is the first manager to achieve promotion with Leicester City – twice – since 2004?  Given Pearson’s experience at Championship level, would he not be the right man to guide Leicester City back to the top flight in a year’s time?

Nigel Pearson could have gone out and spent millions in the transfer window on big-name players in an attempt to improve the club’s survival hopes.  Observers of his tactics in the transfer window will confirm that this is not his style.  There is no guarantee that a desperate spending spree in January would result in a seventeenth-placed finish.  The club would be in a far more precarious position if it were relegated with an additional five Premier League players on their books.  Not only could these types of signings come with baggage and hefty wage requirements, but they come with no guarantee of Championship experience – something this current Leicester City squad has in, and something Nigel Pearson will be very mindful of at this time.

For the first time since the late 1990s, and amidst the highs and lows, Leicester City has achieved something bigger than Premier League status.  It has achieved stability.  And while it may not seem believable to everybody at the moment, Nigel Pearson is the reason for that stability.  Only a minority of clubs can say they have been able to achieve the same in the modern era of football.

Leicester City 1 Aston Villa 0 – 10 January 2015

Paul Konchesky’s first-half goal gave Leicester City a deserved win over fellow strugglers Aston Villa, while extending the Foxes’ unbeaten run to four games.

The only goal of the game came in first-half stoppage time when Konchesky volleyed past Brad Guzan at the near post.

Leicester had a number of opportunities to extend their lead in the second half but were thwarted by Guzan, who made a number of fine saves to deny the home side.

The Foxes’ fourth league win of the season was blemished when Matty James was shown a red card by Michael Oliver at the end of the second half for a strong challenge on Jores Okore, while Ciaran Clark was also shown a second yellow card for his reaction – sparking ugly scenes in the tunnel.

Nevertheless it was an important and impressive win for Nigel Pearson’s men, who have taken seven points from their last nine – as well as picking up an FA Cup third round win over Newcastle United – as they aim to maintain their Premier League status.

Leicester were without Riyad Mahrez and Jeffrey Schlupp, due to international commitments and injury respectively, with Nigel Pearson opting to hand starts to former Aston Villa man Marc Albrighton and Anthony Knockaert, while Marcin Wasilewski and Danny Simpson both returned to the starting XI.

The hosts started strongly and had a glorious opportunity to take the lead after eleven minutes when Leicester broke on the counter attack through Marc Albrighton, but his square ball was turned wide by David Nugent from six yards when it appeared that Anthony Knockaert might have been better-placed to finish.

Aston Villa came into the match with the fewest goals scored in the Premier League this season, although it looked like they had ended their goal drought when Christian Benteke rounded Ben Hamer and slotted the ball into the back of the net, but the Belgian striker was adjudged to have been offside.

Another chance went begging at the other end when Anthony Knockaert picked out David Nugent with a fine left-footed cross, but his header from three yards failed to trouble Brad Guzan.

Gabby Agbonlahor fired high and wide for the visitors just before the half hour mark before former Fox Tom Cleverley saw his shot blocked by Wes Morgan and Marcin Wasilewski.

Leicester might have been awarded a spot kick before half time when Dean Hammond was bundled over inside the Villa penalty area by Alan Hutton, but appeals were waved away by referee Michael Oliver.

David Nugent then came close to breaking the deadlock when his stunning volley smacked against the crossbar with Guzan grabbing at air, with Leonardo Ulloa’s follow-up header sailing onto the roof of the net.

It seemed like it might be one of those afternoons for Leicester, but they finally took the lead in first-half stoppage time when Aston Villa failed to deal with Leonardo Ulloa’s cross, and when the ball fell to Paul Konchesky on the edge of the penalty area, the experienced full back made no mistake with a low volley past Brad Guzan at his near post.

It was a deserved goal for the home side who had seen the better chances in the first half, and some retribution for Konchesky who was wrongfully sent off in the earlier meeting between the two teams at the end of 2014.

Leicester continued to look dangerous in front of goal after the break when Marc Albrighton picked out an unmarked Matty James with a fine cross, whose powerful header forced Brad Guzan into making a brilliant reflex save from eight yards.

Guzan thwarted his former teammate Marc Albrighton on the hour mark with a fine parried save, before Leicester were again denied a penalty when Leonardo Ulloa appeared to have been brought down by Ciaran Clark –Michael Oliver again waving away the protests of the home side.

Substitute Tom Lawrence fired over the bar for the home side as Paul Lambert’s side continued to struggle in front of goal, with Aly Cissokho firing high and wide at the other end.

In second-half stoppage time, Matty James was shown a straight red card for his challenge on Jores Okore, resulting in in tempers flaring between the two sides on the pitch.

Ciaran Clark was also shown a second yellow card for his angry reaction towards James, as the dispute appeared to continue off the pitch and down the tunnel.

Christian Benteke headed over the crossbar as the last few seconds ticked away, ending any hope of the visitors salvaging a point from the match.

The final whistle confirmed a deserved three points for Nigel Pearson’s men, who now face Stoke City in a week’s time, knowing that a win could lift the Foxes off of the foot of the table since the end of November 2014.

Man of the match: Marcin Wasilewski

Leicester 0 Sunderland 0 – 22 November 2014

Leicester’s winless run extended to seven games as they were held to a goalless draw by Sunderland at the King Power Stadium this afternoon.

The Foxes had opportunities to break the deadlock in the second half through Matty James and Jeff Schlupp, although Kasper Schmeichel certainly played his part in Leicester’s second clean sheet of the season by denying Steven Fletcher from close range.

The result lifted Leicester out of the bottom three, with Crystal Palace still to play Liverpool this weekend, although Nigel Pearson’s side are now without a goal in their last five matches – and have gone over two months without winning a game.

Pearson opted to test the Black Cats with width in a 4-4-2 formation, as Riyad Mahrez and Jeff Schlupp were preferred in midfield over Andy King and Danny Drinkwater, with David Nugent named among the replacements.

Leicester could have taken the lead after two minutes when Marcin Wasilewski found himself unmarked from an attacking corner, but was unable to guide his header on target.

Jamie Vardy was then denied by Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon from close range, before Riyad Mahrez tested the Romanian with a low strike from 25 yards.

Leicester’s lively start continued as some great build-up play between Mahrez and Leonardo Ulloa allowed Jeff Schlupp to shoot inside the penalty area, but the Ghanaian international could only hit the side netting.

At the other end, Kasper Schmeichel denied Steven Fletcher with a superb block after Adam Johnson had picked out the Scottish international in a dangerous position.

Johnson tested Schmeichel just after the half-hour mark with a shot of his own which dipped and bounced before being parried to safety, as both sides looked threatening in front of goal.

Riyad Mahrez then came close to breaking the deadlock when his deep cross almost crept inside Pantilimon’s far post, before Wes Morgan threw himself in front of Sebastian Larsson’s powerful close-range strike, which seemed destined to hit the back of the net.

Leicester continued to attack after the break and came close to taking the lead through Matty James, but his effort was parried away by Pantilimon who continued to frustrate the home side.

Just before the hour mark, Riyad Mahrez was cleaned out following a collision with Sunderland right-back Anthony Réveillère on the edge of the area that left Leicester claiming a free-kick or a penalty, but referee Robert Madley was unmoved by the protests of the home fans.

Lee Cattermole was then penalised for a heavy challenge on Esteban Cambiasso, which saw both Cattermole and Jamie Vardy cautioned as the game looked like boiling over.

Matty James was again denied by Pantilimon after the influential midfielder played a clever one-two with Ulloa, but his resulting shot was not enough to cause the giant keeper any problems.

Schmeichel was on hand to make another save from Steven Fletcher with 20 minutes remaining, before substitute David Nugent dragged his first-time shot wide of goal at the other end.

Leicester continued in search of a goal, but the Black Cats held strong to ensure that the points would be shared in a game that neither side wanted to lose.

The performance of Nigel Pearson’s side was much improved, but the result will certainly frustrate some Leicester fans – and the five-game goal drought will be a real concern for most.

Man of the Match: Wes Morgan

Leicester City 5 Manchester United 3 – 21 September 2014

Leicester City overcame a 3-1 deficit at the King Power Stadium this afternoon to secure a memorable victory over Manchester United, who finished the game with ten men.

Manchester United raced to an early 2-0 lead courtesy of a Robin Van Persie header and a stunning chip from Angel Di Maria.

The Foxes pulled one back through Leonardo Ulloa, but the visitors restored their two-goal advantage in the second half when Ander Herrera diverted Di Maria’s shot past Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester were handed a lifeline in the second half when David Nugent converted a penalty after Jamie Vardy had been felled by Rafael, and the hosts were level just two minutes later when Esteban Cambiasso drilled the ball past David De Gea from fifteen yards.

With ten minutes remaining, Ritchie De Laet dispossessed Juan Mata before picking out Jamie Vardy who raced through on goal and coolly slotted past De Gea to give Leicester a 4-3 lead.

And the 22-minute turnaround was complete when Ulloa netted Leicester’s second penalty of the match after Tyler Blackett was sent off for his foul on Jamie Vardy.

It was an amazing result for Nigel Pearson’s men, who demonstrated incredible character to fight back against a defensively poor Manchester United side, but the Foxes deserve all the credit for a huge second-half performance and besting a team with big name attacking players including Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Robin Van Persie.

Leicester started the match positively and had a chance to test David De Gea when Nugent attempted to pick out Leonardo Ulloa at the back post, but Louis Van Gaal’s widely-criticised defence were able to clear their lines.

At the other end, Kasper Schmeichel did well to thwart Robin Van Persie from close range, as Manchester United looked threatening in attack, but the visitors were ahead just moments later when Radamel Falcao picked out Van Persie at the back post with a deep cross, who nodded past Schmeichel.

It was a well-worked goal for the visitors but Ritchie De Laet will have been disappointed to have allowed Falcao to ease past him on the right wing.

Manchester United doubled their lead quickly after the restart when Angel Di Maria played a clever one-two with Wayne Rooney before the Argentine international expertly lobbed the ball over a helpless Schmeichel.

It was a moment of brilliance from Di Maria who continues to impress after his big money move from Real Madrid, but a huge blow for Leicester who had a huge mountain to climb to get back into the match.

Leicester, as they had done at home against Everton and Arsenal this season, responded instantaneously when Jamie Vardy picked out Leo Ulloa with an excellent cross, who headed the ball past a rooted David De Gea in the Manchester United goal.

It was, again, the perfect response by the Foxes, and another goal for Ulloa – his fourth goal in five games – since making the move to the King Power Stadium this summer.

Leicester were looking dangerous on the counter attack, but Manchester United should have restored their two-goal cushion before half time when Marcos Rojo headed over the bar from six yards when he should have at least hit the target.

Shortly after the restart, Rooney burst through the Leicester midfield before picking out Falcao at the back post, only for the Columbian international to hammer his effort against the crossbar.

But United did restore their two-goal advantage following a strong start to the second half when Di Maria’s low drive was turned in by Anders Herrera from close range.

It was an unfortunate goal for the Foxes to concede, but Herrera’s quick reaction meant that Kasper Schmeichel could do little to prevent it.

It was starting to look as though it wouldn’t be Leicester’s day until just after the hour mark when Jamie Vardy dispossessed Rafael nearer the corner flag before winning a spot kick after being bundled over by the Brazilian in the Manchester United penalty area.

David Nugent stepped up from twelve yards to smash the ball straight down to the middle to reduce the deficit to 3-2 – a huge goal for Leicester, and for Nugent; his first of the season – although United fans will be disappointed that referee Mark Clattenburg did not award their side a free-kick for a push by Vardy on Rafael in the build-up.

Leicester had their tails up and found themselves level shortly after the restart, when home debutant Esteban Cambiasso drove the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the United penalty area.

It was a great finish by the influential midfielder, although the Manchester United defence were exposed as they had been on a number of occasions during the match.

Manchester United were shell-shocked, having led for the majority of the game, and were looking to respond quickly as Leicester had done in the first half, but Anders Herrera was off target with his long-range effort.

Leicester were almost ahead with fifteen minutes remaining when some excellent build-up play involving Ritchie De Laet and Jamie Vardy created a chance for Andy King, but the Welsh international flashed his volley just wide of David De Gea’s right hand post.

But the Foxes did take the lead on their next attack when Ritchie De Laet dispossessed substitute Juan Mata before breaking down the right wing, and when his well-placed pass played Jamie Vardy beyond the Manchester United defence, the former Fleetwood Town man capped a man-of-the-match performance with his first Premier League goal, slotting the ball past David De Gea.

It was a well-deserved goal for Vardy who had caused Manchester United problems all afternoon, and a reminder to Leicester fans – and a warning to the rest of the Premier League – of what he is capable of.

Leicester completed their stunning 22-minute turnaround four minutes later when Vardy – involved again – was bundled down in the Manchester United penalty area by Tyler Blackett, who was shown a straight red card by referee Mark Clattenburg.

Leo Ulloa tucked the ensuing spot-kick into the bottom right-hand corner for his second of the game, and his fifth of the season, as he continues to establish himself as a firm fan favourite at the King Power Stadium.

Substitute Jeffrey Schlupp might have made it 6-3 in stoppage time if it hadn’t been for a last-ditch challenge from Chris Smalling, but the final whistle minutes later capped an astonishing result for Leicester City, who remain undefeated at home, having collected eight points from their opening five Premier League fixtures.

Man of the Match – Jamie Vardy

Real test yet to come for Leicester City

Leicester City have made a promising start to life in the Premier League following a ten-year absence from the top tier of English football.  The Foxes have yet to register a win in their first three games, and suffered defeat at Stamford Bridge, but came from behind against Arsenal and Everton to earn a draw against two top-four hopefuls.  Considered relegation fodder by many, Nigel Pearson’s side sit fifteenth in the table during this September international break, having gained with two points from three games, which is a better start than many level-headed fans would have expected.

What is as impressive as the modest points tally is the manner of the performances.  Leicester do not look like a team out of place in the Premier League, even in spite of the teams faced so far.  The Foxes have averaged just 35 per cent possession in their opening games, but have created real goal-scoring opportunities in all three outings.  Nigel Pearson adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation towards the end of their 2013/14 Championship campaign, knowing that Leicester would need to adapt at the next level, and this is already paying dividends.

A number of players have noticeably upped their game this season.  Andy King and Liam Moore, who were not regular starters in the Championship, look as though they have played at this level for a number of years, and are very much making the most of their opportunities.  Jeffrey Schlupp, who is being utilised more as an attacking wide player, looks more of a threat going forward than he ever has done.  Riyad Mahrez appears to be the key to unlocking opposing defences.  And Leo Ulloa, already with two goals to his name, is doing his very best to repay his transfer fee and win over Leicester fans at the same time.

While there are positives to be taken at this stage of the season, the real test is yet to come for Leicester City.  Relegation will not be avoided in fixtures against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea.  It will be games like Hull away, three days after Christmas, and trips to Burnley and West Bromwich Albion towards the end of the season.  Those will be the games that Nigel Pearson will be looking to take results from – and, with the greatest of respect, the teams that he will be looking for his players to take points away from.

Of course, each game is important, and Leicester will need to maintain the same level of performance for the rest of this season if they are to hold onto their top-flight status.  But Nigel Pearson will be pleased with what he has seen from his team so far, and will hope to build on an encouraging start to life in the Premier League.