How Leicester City sealed promotion: ten season-defining moments

It is official: Leicester City will be playing their football in the Premier League next season.  With six games to go, the Foxes boast a nineteen-point lead over third-placed Queens Park Rangers, and a nine-point lead over second-placed Burnley, as they look set to be crowned winners of the Championship on 3 May at the King Power Stadium.

Nigel Pearson has made it clear that his side will not be taking their foot off the gas for the last six games of the season.  However, fans can rest assured that their side have secured automatic promotion.  Here are ten season-defining moments in Leicester City’s 2013-14 Championship campaign:

10. 26 December 2013: Leicester 1 Reading 0: The Foxes go top of the Championship

On paper, this result may not seem all that remarkable, but it was pivotal in Leicester City’s success this year for two reasons.  Firstly, it was a comfortable win against a side that had beaten the Foxes in their last six straight meetings, and secondly, David Nugent’s first-half penalty secured the three points which took Leicester to the top of the Championship table – where they have remained since Boxing Day.

9. 3 August 2013: Middlesbrough 1 Leicester 2: second-half response from Vardy and Drinkwater on opening day of the season

After the 2012/13 season ended in such disappointment for Leicester City, fans might have feared the worst after going a goal down at the Riverside on the first day of the season.  But, as so often they have done under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes were much improved after the break, and scored twice in seven second-half minutes through Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy – two players who would go on to be central to Leicester’s success this season – to grab all three points.

8. 4 April 2014: Leicester 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1: Anthony Knockaert’s free-kick secures the three points to gain automatic promotion

Again, as a standalone game, this result doesn’t stand out – but the ramifications of it make this a big moment in Leicester’s 2013/14 league campaign.  Riyad Mahrez had given the Foxes an initial first-half lead, but it was Anthony Knockaert’s superb second-half free kick that gave Nigel Pearson’s men victory on the night and, with QPR and Derby both failing to win the day afterwards, that goal would seal Leicester City’s status as a top-flight club in 2014/15 with six games left to play.  For the manner in which Leicester’s season ended for Knockaert in 2013, it seemed only fitting that he score the decisive goal for the Foxes less than twelve months on.

7. 18 January 2014: Leeds 0 Leicester 1: Nugent’s smash-and grab winner

This win emphasised the difference between this season and last season for the Foxes.  A tricky game away from home in which Leicester were under the cosh for long periods of the first-half may well have been an away loss last season, but the visitors hung in, and with veteran striker Kevin Phillips making his debut as a substitute, David Nugent poked home a late winner to secure an invaluable three points for Leicester City, who opened up a five-point lead at the top of the table, after Burnley were held to a draw at home against Sheffield Wednesday.

6. 2 November 2013: Watford 0 Leicester 3: Leicester lay to rest the ghost of last season’s play-off semi-final

Nobody was entirely sure how this one was going to go, but Leicester, back at Vicarage Road, where they had been eliminated from the play-offs in heart-breaking fashion just six months ago, put in a thoroughly professional and complete performance, picking up their fourteenth win in all competitions along the way.  Their first goal was fortunate, but Anthony Knockaert and Lloyd Dyer put the game beyond the Hornets as the Foxes showed their mental strength in the second-half, laying to rest any lingering memories of their last trip to Watford.

5. 21 December 2013: QPR 0 Leicester 1: Coming of age game for Jamie Vardy as Leicester claim unlikely win at Loftus Road

Despite their strong start to the season, Leicester’s trip to then league-leaders and automatic promotion favourites QPR came on the back of four games without a win for the Foxes – including back-to-back-to-back defeats.  Harry Redknapp’s side were yet to suffer a league defeat in 2013/14, but after Leicester weathered an early barrage of pressure from the home side, Jamie Vardy’s composed first-half goal gave the Foxes an unlikely win at Loftus Road, at a point in the season when they could have started to fall behind the front runners.

4. 10 January 2014: Leicester 4 Derby 1: Foxes put on a master class against their East Midlands rivals

The Foxes have been impressive in front of the Sky cameras this year, but this performance was the one that really caught the eye of everybody watching, sending a message to the rest of the Championship at the same time.  Derby, who were very much in form going into this tie, were completely blown away by Leicester City, and the margin of victory could have been even greater.  David Nugent scored twice, and goals from Ritchie De Laet and Jamie Vardy rounded off a comprehensive win against their East Midlands rivals.  The win also gave Leicester their eighth win in nine games against Derby County.

3. 29 March 2014: Burnley 0 Leicester 2: Leicester open up six-point gap with deserved win at Turf Moor

Leicester had drawn their last two league games, while Burnley had narrowed the gap between first and second to just three points after back-to-back victories.  Although they were without top goal-scorer Danny Ings through injury, Sean Dyche would have felt that his side had a real opportunity to leapfrog Leicester City at the top of the table in this first-versus second encounter.  However, David Nugent gave Leicester a first-half lead against his former side, and substitute Chris Wood’s superb dipping volley with just over ten minutes remaining gave Leicester a deserved three points.  Victory for the Foxes also brought Burnley’s twelve-month unbeaten record at Turf Moor to a grinding halt.

2. 8 February 2014: Leicester 2 Watford 2: last-gasp strike from Danny Drinkwater rescues a point for Leicester

Leicester had won nine in a row in the league going into this game, having kept three clean sheets in their last four.  So it was much to everyone’s surprise when the Foxes found themselves 2-0 down with five minutes remaining in the first-half.  Fans will have had last season’s torrid end-of-season run of form in the back of their minds, but Matty James gave Leicester a lifeline just before the break.  Watford were organised in the second-half, and loaded the midfield with bodies to make it difficult for Leicester to attack.  The Foxes piled on the pressure, but as stoppage time ran down, it seemed like their unbeaten run would be coming to an end – until the 94th minute of the game, when Danny Drinkwater kept his composure to fire home a last-gasp equaliser to send the home fans into raptures.  Leicester have remained undefeated for another two month and counting since that game.

1. 25 March 2014: Leicester 1 Yeovil 1: never-say-die moment of the season as Schmeichel, Wood salvage a crucial equaliser

If there was one moment to encapsulate Leicester City’s never-say-die attitude this season, it was the 92nd minute of their home fixture against a well-organised, yet relegation-threatened, Yeovil Town on Tuesday 25 March.  The Foxes had been far from at their best in this match which, on paper, looked like a routine win.  Nigel Pearson’s men had found themselves a goal down at half-time and, while they were improved after the break, having dominated possession, shots, chances, it really did seem as though they would be handed their first league loss in over three months.  Foxes fans will feel they were denied at least one penalty in this match, but the truth is that Leicester did not play well enough to win this match.  In second-half stoppage time, when Kasper Schmeichel had gone up for a corner-kick in front of the Kop, the ball was picked up by Danny Drinkwater on the right-hand side, and the Danish keeper rose higher than any player on the pitch to head Drinkwater’s cross against the underside of the bar, which bounced down over the line, before being bundled into the net by Chris Wood.

It was an indescribable feeling that will only ever be known to the 26,240 fans at the King Power Stadium that night.  Schmeichel was wrongfully denied the goal, and it was fortunate that Chris Wood was in the right place at the right time in the Yeovil six-yard box, but it was a defining moment in Leicester City’s season – and history – and one which kept the momentum of the Foxes’ unbeaten run going.

Leicester City 1 Yeovil Town 1 – 25 March 2014

Leicester City scored a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Yeovil Town to maintain their eighteen-game unbeaten league run.

The visitors took a surprise first-half lead when Joe Ralls fired past Kasper Schmeichel from 25 yards following a quick free-kick.

But Leicester piled on the pressure towards the end of the second-half, and just when it seemed that the Foxes would be condemned to their first league defeat since November, Kasper Schmeichel rose highest to head a Danny Drinkwater cross, which hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down over the line.

Chris Wood followed up to bundle the ball into the back of the net and the goal was then given by the officials, but replays later suggested that Schmeichel’s header had indeed crossed the goal line.

It was certainly a point gained for Leicester, who were far from their best against a struggling yet determined Yeovil side, and Nigel Pearson will know his players will need to put in an improved display against Burnley on Saturday in a first-versus-second clash – especially as Sean Dyche’s side were able to close the gap on Leicester to just three points following their 2-0 win at home to Doncaster this evening.

Pearson, who spent two nights in hospital over the weekend after falling ill during Leicester’s trip to Ewood Park last weekend, named an unchanged starting eleven, although Lloyd Dyer was named among the replacements.

It might have been a different game altogether when Jamie Vardy sprung the offside trap after just three minutes, but his tame effort was easily saved by Yeovil goalkeeper Marek Stech.

Riyad Mahrez then tested Stech from 20 yards, but his shot lacked power and failed to threaten the visitors.

Leicester did not look like the same side who had led the Championship since late-December 2013, and, other than a couple of efforts from Danny Drinkwater and Marcin Wasilewski, never really looked like scoring in the first-half.

In a surprise turn, it was Yeovil who did take the lead after 22 minutes when Joe Ralls curled a fine strike past Kasper Schmeichel into the bottom corner following a quick free-kick by the Glovers.

It was a nice finish from Ralls, but one which came from a cheap free-kick conceded by Danny Drinkwater just moments earlier.

Leicester looked to respond and came close when Wes Morgan rose highest for an Anthony Knockaert corner-kick, but the captain’s header bounced down and over the crossbar from close range.

Riyad Mahrez then fired over the bar from eight yards after some good build-up play by the Foxes, before Jamie Vardy appeared to be taken out by a Yeovil defender off the ball, and while Leicester fans appealed for a penalty, referee Andy Madley was unmoved and a Yeovil goal-kick was given.

At the other end, the impressive Ishmael Miller fired just wide from 18 yards after outmuscling Wes Morgan, who struggled to contain the former West Bromwich Albion striker for the majority of the game.

Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy had efforts on goal as the first-half came to a close, but could do nothing to threaten Yeovil’s slender lead.

After the break, Kasper Schmeichel had to be alert to save an Ishmael Miller strike from inside the penalty area, before Miller fired just inches wide after 55 minutes as Yeovil’s game plan continued to work to great effect.

Jeffrey Schlupp dragged a shot wide from a tight angle just after the hour-mark, and Wes Morgan missed the target with a header, as Leicester’s unbeaten run appeared to be in jeopardy.

With just ten minutes remaining, Matty James had a 30-yard effort parried away, before a loose ball fell to substitute Kevin Phillips in the penalty area, and when his powerless shot rolled harmlessly towards Marek Stech, it seemed that Leicester were destined to suffer their first league defeat in over four months.

But in second-half stoppage time, Kasper Schmeichel, who had made his way into the Yeovil penalty area, rose above the Glovers’ defence to power a header off the underside of the crossbar.

The ball appeared to cross the line, and, although the goal was not initially given, Chris Wood was on hand to bundle the ball into the back of the net for a Leicester equaliser.

It was a vital goal for the Foxes, and arguably one of the most memorable in recent history for Leicester City – and while Wood was initially credited with the goal, it was later confirmed that Schmeichel’s header had bounced over the goal-line.

With little time remaining, Leicester pushed forward in search of a winner, but Andy Madley blew his whistle to confirm that the points would be shared after a frenetic end to the match.

Man of the Match – Ishmael Miller

Leicester City 3 Blackpool 1 – 15 March 2014

Leicester extended their unbeaten league run to sixteen games after coming from behind to beat Blackpool at the King Power Stadium this afternoon.

David Goodwillie gave the Seasiders an unlikely lead four minutes before the interval after Leicester had squandered a number of goal-scoring opportunities in the first-half.

But Nigel Pearson’s men were much-improved after the break, and drew level on the hour mark courtesy of a fantastic strike from Riyad Mahrez.

Blackpool continued to frustrate the Foxes, but Wes Morgan’s close-range header gave Leicester the lead with eight minutes remaining, before substitute Kevin Phillips added a third to complete the turnaround.

It was Leicester’s fourth win in a row, and one that not only extends their unbeaten run to sixteen games, but also widens the gap between themselves and third-placed Derby County to seventeen points.

Nigel Pearson named an unchanged starting eleven to the side that comfortably won at Barnsley, preferring to stick with Jeff Schlupp and Marcin Wasilewski over the now-available Paul Konchesky and Liam Moore.

The Foxes dominated the opening stages of the game, with Riyad Mahrez curling a shot from distance wide of Matt Gilks’ far post, before Marcin Wasilewski found Jamie Vardy in the Blackpool penalty area with an excellent long ball just moments later, although the in-form striker misjudged his header and the danger was cleared by the visitors.

Danny Drinkwater then fired wide as the Foxes started to turn up the pressure on Blackpool, before Jamie Vardy had a goal ruled out by the offside flag after a clever through ball from his strike partner David Nugent.

Anthony Knockaert’s mazy run in on goal allowed the Frenchman to test Matt Gilks’ with a low shot which almost slipped underneath the Blackpool shot-stopper, while, at the other end, Neal Bishop really should have put the visitors ahead after finding himself unmarked in the Leicester penalty area following a corner kick, but his header was well off-target.

On the half-hour mark, Jamie Vardy almost broke the deadlock with a close-range volley from Ritchie De Laet’s cross, but his effort flew wide of the mark and the chance went begging.

Leicester had a glorious chance to go ahead before half-time when Riyad Mahrez put Vardy through on goal with a fantastic through ball, but the former Fleetwood Town striker dragged his shot wide of the far post.

The Foxes were then made to pay for their lack of composure in front of goal with four minutes remaining in the first half, when Kasper Schmeichel’s poor punched clearance from a long throw-in by the visitors led to the ball falling to David Goodwillie, who volleyed in from close-range.

It was a poor goal for the hosts to concede and one which came against the run of play for Barry Ferguson’s side.

Leicester were improved in the second-half, with the majority of the attacking play involving the impressive Mahrez, who almost picked out Jamie Vardy in a dangerous position, but the ball evaded the striker’s outstretched leg in the penalty area.

With players and fans alike becoming frustrated with the way the match seemed to be going and some of the decisions being made by referee Nigel Miller, the Foxes drew level on the hour mark when Riyad Mahrez cut inside from the right wing before firing a superb swerving strike into the far corner of the goal with Matt Gilks absolutely helpless to stop it.

It was a real moment of magic from the winger – his second goal of the game since making his move to the King Power Stadium – and one which provided the impetus for Leicester to push on and take control of the game.

Jamie Vardy came close to instantly putting Leicester ahead after the restart, but was thwarted at the last possible moment by the Blackpool backline, before Matty James’ positive run into the area came to an end after the midfielder took one touch too many.

Matt Gilks had to be alert to keep out David Nugent’s header after Riyad Mahrez picked out the frontman after a set play had broken down, before substitute Gary Taylor-Fletcher came close with a wonderful team move including Nugent and Jeff Schlupp, but the former Blackpool man couldn’t quite hit the target.

Nugent then saw his header cleared off the line with time running out in the match, but, with eight minutes remaining, Riyad Mahrez superbly picked out Wes Morgan at the back post with a pinpoint cross, allowing the Foxes captain to head the ball into the net.

It was an excellent cross from Mahrez and a timely goal from Morgan for his first of the season.

The turnaround was complete three minutes before the end when Danny Drinkwater’s cross intended for Gary Taylor-Fletcher fell to substitute Kevin Phillips, and the veteran striker did well to turn inside the box and fire the ball high into the net.

It was a neat finish from Phillips, who showed admirable respect to his former club with a muted celebration, and a perfect demonstration of why Nigel Pearson brought him to Leicester City earlier this year.

Leicester had a number of chances to extend their 3-1 lead in the dying stages of the match, with Phillips firing over the bar from close range and Danny Drinkwater having a dangerous pass across goal parried away by Matt Gilks, but the three points were very much safe by that point, and the final whistle confirmed Leicester’s fourth win in as many games as their quest for automatic promotion continues.

Man of the Match – Riyad Mahrez

Leicester City 3 Charlton Athletic 0 – 1 March 2014

Leicester City extended their lead at the top of the Championship to thirteen points with a comfortable win over Charlton Athletic this afternoon at the King Power Stadium.

The Foxes were not at their best in the first-half, but took an early lead through Jamie Vardy’s close-range finish after just nine minutes.

Leicester doubled their lead three minutes after half-time through Danny Drinkwater, after David Nugent had initially been denied from close range.

Nugent’s excellent strike after the hour mark put the game well beyond the visitors, who struggled to establish themselves in the match, while the Foxes maintained their impressive fourteen-game unbeaten run dating back to mid-December.

Other results meant that the Foxes remain eight points clear at the top of the Championship, but extend their lead over third-placed Derby County to thirteen points with just thirteen games remaining this season.

It was Leicester’s 23rd league win of the campaign, and, while Nigel Pearson’s side were never really threatened by their struggling opponents, it was further proof that this team has made huge strides, both mentally and physically, following the their end-of-season implosion less than twelve months ago.

Riyad Mahrez was the only change to the starting XI that defeated Ipswich Town at the King Power Stadium last weekend, with Lloyd Dyer out of the match-day squad though injury.

Leicester had the first clear-cut opportunity when Jamie Vardy broke through the Charlton backline following a quick one-two, but goalkeeper Ben Hamer was out in time to save with his feet, in what would be a busy day for the Charlton shot-stopper.

Leicester took the lead just moments later when David Nugent found his strike partner Vardy after good initial work from Anthony Knockaert, before the former Fleetwood Town man rounded one defender before composing himself on the edge of the six-yard box and slotted the ball past Ben Hamer.

It was a well-worked goal by the Foxes and Vardy’s third in as many games, as he continues to look more and more like a player ready for the challenges of the next tier of English football.

Anthony Knockaert’s dangerous ball into the box shortly after the restart forced Ben Hamer to parry the ball away, before Simon Church took advantage of a defensive mix-up and forced Kasper Schmeichel into making a save after Wes Morgan had allowed a long ball to bounce between himself and the goalkeeper.

At the other end, David Nugent headed over from a Riyad Mahrez cross into the box, before the one-time England international saw his shot deflected over for a corner midway a few minutes later.

Leicester were comfortable in the opening 45 minutes but were never required to move out of second gear, as the visitors struggled to find a foothold in the game.

Riyad Mahrez came close for the Foxes five minutes before half-time with a powerful strike across goal from 20 yards, while former Leicester City midfielder Astrit Ajdarević fired high and wide for Charlton in the last real action of the first-half.

Leicester quickly doubled their lead shortly after the interval when Jeffrey Schlupp’s low cross found David Nugent in front of goal, and while his shot was excellently saved by Ben Hamer, the ball fell to Danny Drinkwater who drove the ball into the net from twelve yards.

It was harsh on Hamer, who had done brilliantly to deny Nugent from point-blank range, but a goal that emphasised Leicester’s dominance in the match.

Drinkwater put Hamer to the test shortly afterwards with a fierce strike from distance, but the goalkeeper was equal to it this time as the ball was punched away, and David Nugent’s follow-up was blocked for a corner.

Leicester extended their advantage with a little over 25 minutes remaining when David Nugent picked up a pass from Jamie Vardy before bearing down on goal and rifling a shot past Ben Hamer into the far corner of the net.

It was a superb finish from Nugent for his nineteenth of the season, and a well-deserved goal on top of a good performance for the 28-year old.

The game was now well out of sight for the visitors but the Foxes continued to press for more goals, and Nugent might have had his second and Leicester’s fourth were it not for another superb stop by Ben Hamer from close range.

Anthony Knockaert’s stretched effort flew just wide of the far post with five minutes remaining, by which time it was clear that Leicester were well on course for their thirteenth home league win this season.

The final whistle confirmed this, and, with results around the league going Leicester’s way, the Foxes extended their gap between themselves and third-placed Derby County to thirteen points, as Nigel Pearson’s men continue to look more and more like a Championship-winning side bound for the Premier League.

Man of the Match – David Nugent

Leicester City 3 Ipswich Town 0 – 22 February 2014

Leicester City returned to winning ways with a comfortable win over Ipswich Town at the King Power Stadium this afternoon.

Jamie Vardy put the Foxes ahead after nineteen minutes with a cool finish from a tight angle, before David Nugent added a second just after the half-hour mark – his fourteenth goal in thirteen games against the Tractor Boys, and his 50th as a Leicester City player.

The pace of the game slowed after the interval, but substitute Chris Wood scored Leicester’s third in the closing stages to put the game out of reach for Mick McCarthy’s side.

It was Leicester’s 22nd league win of the season, and one which maintains their thirteen-game unbeaten run and ten-point cushion at the top of the Championship.

But more importantly, it was a confident and professional display against a team challenging for the play-offs, and another indication that Nigel Pearson’s men have no intention of letting up or losing focus until their aim of reaching the Premier League as champions has been reached.

The one enforced change from Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest was Jeff Schlupp, who stepped in for the suspended Paul Konchesky, while Riyad Mahrez, who scored Leicester’s equaliser in mid-week, was kept out of the starting XI by Lloyd Dyer.

The Foxes were on top in the opening stages of the first-half, and came close after just four minutes when Wes Morgan’s header hit the target from a corner, but Dean Gerken did well to push the ball away.

At the other end, Cole Skuse could have given the visitors an early advantage when a mix-up at the back for the Foxes gifted the Ipswich midfielder an opportunity to test Kasper Schmeichel, but his shot flew just wide of the right post.

Aaron Cresswell then forced a save with a dangerous cross which needed to be tipped over the bar by the Danish international for an Ipswich corner.

But it wasn’t long afterwards that Leicester were ahead, when Jamie Vardy gambled on a poor back-pass from Jay Tabb, before rounding Dean Gerken and finding the net from a tight angle for his twelfth goal of the season.

It was a neat finish by Vardy, who continues to established himself as a fan-favourite amongst Leicester supporters, and indicative of the strides he has made to becoming a staple in Nigel Pearson’s starting line-up since his arrival at the King Power Stadium a little over eighteen months ago.

Leicester then began to take control of the game, as they have done so successfully for most of this season, with Matty James and Danny Drinkwater enjoying the lion’s share of possession in midfield.

And Foxes fans only had to wait until the half-hour mark to see their side double their advantage when Ritchie De Laet played a pinpoint ball through to Jamie Vardy, whose return pass to the Belgian full-back provided a crossing opportunity, and while the first attempt was blocked, De Laet’s second ball into the box found David Nugent lurking at the back post who finished from close range.

It was a well-worked goal by Leicester City and David Nugent’s 50th goal since joining the Foxes in 2011.

It was also Nugent’s fourteenth goal in thirteen games against Ipswich, as the one-time England international continues his quest to seemingly torment the Tractor Boys.

Leicester were now in control, and could have added a third before half-time through an Anthony Knockaert free-kick from twenty yards, but the Frenchman’s effort flew just wide of the right post.

Marcin Wasilewski then headed just over the bar from close range as the first-half came to a close, much to the relief of the Ipswich Town backline who had struggled to cope with Jamie Vardy’s pace in the opening 45 minutes.

The Foxes began the second-half as they had finished the first, with Lloyd Dyer breaking through on goal, but the visitors were able to clear the danger to keep the score at 2-0.

Anthony Knockaert then fired wide for the home side following an extended period of Leicester pressure, which was created as a result of another surging run from Jamie Vardy.

Meanwhile, Tommy Smith could have given Ipswich a lifeline just before the hour mark, but his header at the back post was high and wide.

Jeff Schlupp tested Dean Gerken with a powerful strike down the goalkeeper’s throat from a tight angle, while, at the other end, substitute Paul Taylor’s header was blocked inside the penalty area as time continued to run out for Mick McCarthy’s men.

With two minutes of normal time remaining, Chris Wood put the game out of sight after latching on to Matty James’ through ball before slotting the ball past Dean Gerken to make it 3-0.

It was a deserved third goal for Leicester, with substitute Kevin Phillips also involved in the build-up, and just a reminder to Nigel Pearson that he has options in attack should they be required during the home stretch of the 2013-14 season.

The final whistle confirmed Leicester’s twelfth win in sixteen league fixtures at the King Power Stadium, and maintained their unbeaten run in the Championship dating back to 14 December 2013, as the Foxes continue to look strong favourites for promotion to the Premier League this year.

Man of the Match – Jamie Vardy

Leicester City 2 Watford 2 – 8 February 2014

Danny Drinkwater’s spectacular stoppage-time equaliser rescued a deserved point for Leicester City who had to come from two goals behind against Watford at a blustery King Power Stadium this afternoon.

Fernando Forestieri gave the Hornets an early lead, before Sean Murray’s low drive doubled the visitors’ advantage five minutes before half-time.

Matty James pulled a goal back two minutes later, and while the hosts dominated possession in the second-half, it appeared that they were headed for their first loss of 2014.

But Danny Drinkwater’s last-gasp volley ensured that Leicester’s eleven-game unbeaten run in the Championship remained intact.

Leicester remain eleven points clear at the top of the Championship with sixteen games remaining, and, although the result snapped the Foxes’ nine-game winning streak, Nigel Pearson will be pleased with his team’s performance and character after finding themselves two goals down against a team who set out to frustrate the home side.

Pearson named an unchanged starting eleven from last week’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth, but it was the visitors who took a surprise lead when Fernando Forestieri turned in Troy Deeney’s off-target effort.

Kasper Schmeichel and the Foxes’ backline were convinced that Forestieri was offside when he made contact with the ball, but their complaints fell on deaf ears as the goal was given.

Leicester searched for an immediate response and came close when Marcin Wasilewski headed just wide from a Matty James corner.

At the other end, Marco Faraoni hit the side netting after the Foxes struggled to deal with a Watford corner kick, before Troy Deeney fired well wide from the edge of the penalty area.

Leicester were playing into a strong breeze in the first 45 minutes, but the conditions almost lead to an equaliser when the wind carried another Matty James corner kick goal-bound, but the ball was cleared off the line.

Gabriele Angella’s overhead-kick inside the penalty area forced Kasper Schmeichel into making an acrobatic save ten minutes before half-time, but the Danish international could do nothing about Watford’s second goal as Sean Murray collected the ball in the final third and fired a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.

Leicester needed a response, and demonstrated resilience in finding one when Ritchie De Laet picked out his former Manchester United teammate Matty James in the penalty area, and his low volley found its way past Manuel Almunia for his first goal of the season.

It was a turning point in the match and gave the Foxes real momentum going into the dressing room at half-time, and a sense of belief that they could recover to claim something from the match.

Leicester were more dominant in the second-half, as Lloyd Dyer set out on a trademark blistering run down the left wing, but his cutback into the penalty area couldn’t find David Nugent and the ball was cleared by the Watford defence.

Jamie Vardy almost latched onto Wes Morgan’s long clearance just minutes later, but Manuel Almunia was quick out of his goal to avert any danger.

The Foxes continued to ask most of the questions, but Watford had a glorious opportunity to put the game out of sight when Forestieri broke past the Leicester defence and seemed in on goal, but he opted to square the ball to Troy Deeney at the back post but could not pick out his teammate with an accurate pass.

Nigel Pearson brought on Kevin Phillips and Riyad Mahrez in quick succession with just over fifteen minutes remaining, but Watford were resolute in defence as Leicester’s nine-game winning streak seemed in jeopardy.

Chris Wood replaced Marcin Wasilewski as the Foxes looked to throw everything at the visitors, but when Almunia denied Kevin Phillips at the back post, it began to appear that it just wouldn’t be Leicester’s day.

But in the fourth minute of injury time, Danny Drinkwater fired a stunning volley into the top corner to send the home crowd into raptures.

It was a deserved equaliser for Leicester who had put on a dominant display despite being behind for most of the match.

The Foxes almost snatched all three points when a last-gasp corner kick fell to David Nugent in the penalty area, but his shot flew just wide of the post as the final whistle drew a close to a pulsating end to the match.

The result extended Leicester’s unbeaten streak in the league to eleven games, and gave Nigel Pearson’s men an important point as their chase for automatic promotion continues.

Man of the Match – Matty James

Looking to the future

The January transfer window has not exactly brought about a plethora of activity to the King Power Stadium.  Nigel Pearson has previously indicated that he prefers to complete any business well before the deadline.  That being said, it won’t have come as a huge surprise to Foxes fans that the signings of Kevin Phillips and Riyad Mahrez are both done and dusted early into the calendar year.  While these two players may not have stirred more than a quiet excitement around the club compared with other teams in this division, these two signings tell us a lot about Nigel Pearson’s plans for the rest of the season.

The signing of Kevin Phillips might have been one of the worst-kept secrets in recent years.  However, the 40-year old striker brings a wealth of experience to the King Power Stadium.  He also has a proven track record of scoring goals, and, regardless of his age, he poses a problem for defenders.  He made an instant impact in his first appearance for the Foxes against Leeds United, and his dummy on the edge of the penalty area was the catalyst for David Nugent’s 88th-minute winner at Elland Road, during a game in which Leicester City were far from at their best.  Phillips has experienced promotion to the Championship with four separate sides, and Foxes fans will be hoping that he can make it five at the beginning of May.

The signing of Kevin Phillips demonstrates that Nigel Pearson has thought about Leicester’s torrid run of form this time last year, which saw the Foxes slip out of automatic promotion contention and almost miss out on the playoffs despite holding a comfortable position near the top of the Championship at the end of January 2013.  It means that Pearson has also considered that, despite the Foxes’ league-best current form, there will be games where perhaps Nugent or Vardy are unable to find that breakthrough goal; given that Leicester have faced every side in the league this season, opposing sides may travel to the King Power Stadium with the game plan of frustrating Nigel Pearson’s men, as was often the case during the League One campaign.  It also gives Leicester fans a mental boost, knowing that he is an option whether Leicester are winning 3-0 or losing 2-1 with fifteen minutes remaining.  A player like Kevin Phillips always possesses a threat, and he has the ability to change a game.  And, in addition, while he may not be one for the future in terms of his own playing career, he is certainly a great person for younger strikers like Jamie Vardy, Chris Wood and Jeffrey Schlupp to learn from in their development.

Leicester’s only other incoming player during this transfer window so far is Riyad Mahrez, a 22-year old French-Algerian winger who transferred from a French Ligue 2 side.  Mahrez made his debut for the Foxes last weekend as a substitute in a 2-0 win against Middlesbrough, and, after just eleven minutes of playing time, fans already seem hugely excited to find out exactly what he is capable of.

This Leicester City squad is well-balanced; some may call it traditional – a 4-4-2 line up, speed on the wings with full-backs capable of pushing forward, strong central defenders and two strikers who are starting to forge an effective partnership in front of goal.  However, if Lloyd Dyer or Anthony Knockaert were to pick up an injury, it would prevent Nigel Pearson from utilising this preferred formation and line-up to its desired effect. Pearson would have the option of switching to a 4-3-3, or possibly playing Jamie Vardy out wide, but Vardy has been so effective in front of goal that to play him out of position could have an adverse effect.  The addition of Mahrez provides cover – and depth – on the wings.  It also prevents a negative knock-on effect from potential injury or dip in form.  Dyer and Knockaert have both been excellent this season; Dyer, in particular, has surpassed expectation, while Knockaert is learning a more disciplined game – in the sense that what he doesn’t do is equally as important as what he does do.  Foxes fans will be incredibly excited to see Mahrez and Knockaert on either flank.  Opposing full-backs may not be relishing this opportunity.

While Leicester City have been eliminated from both cup tournaments this season, it might actually be a blessing in disguise as it allows them to give their entire focus to achieving promotion to the Premier League.  There are five Championship teams who still have an extra FA cup game to play (Nottingham Forest may have to play two more, if they are successful against Preston in a week’s time).  Leicester were one of only two teams to pick up three points in the Championship last weekend, which allowed them to open up an eight-point cushion at the top of the league.  The pressure is now on QPR and Burnley to keep pace.  That being said, fans will know it is too early to pop open the champagne.  This season has been hugely successful so far, but in the back of Pearson’s mind will be last season’s collapse.  It is his job to ensure that the players stay focused on the job at hand.  Phillips and Mahrez offer just a little something different in terms of options during the business end of this season.

An assessment of Leicester City so far this season – part two

23 games into the 2013/14 Championship campaign is as good a time as any to reflect on Leicester City’s season so far.  The Foxes have now faced every opponent in the division, and while tough fixtures certainly await Nigel Pearson’s men in 2014, it is fair to say that Leicester are where they are in the league – first – on merit.

Since the October international break, Leicester City have played twelve league fixtures.  They have won eight, drawn one, and lost three, picking up 25 points along the way.  As such, the Foxes are the only side in the Championship to average more than two points per game (2.1) throughout the first half of the season.  Impressively, Nigel Pearson’s side have only once fallen below a return of two points per game, which occurred after Leicester’s draw with at-the-time table-toppers Burnley.  Leicester also broke their December curse by winning three consecutive games to close out the calendar year – the Foxes had only won three games out of nineteen in December from 2009-2012 before that.

While the Foxes suffered back-to-back defeats in the league for the first time this season during this run of twelve fixtures, they also recorded three consecutive wins on two separate occasions.  This demonstrates an ability to bounce back from disappointing results, something that plagued Leicester during the final third of the 2012/13 season.  Every team will be looking to take points from the league leaders in the second half of this season, and it will be down to Nigel Pearson’s men to make sure that doesn’t happen.

One statistic which will have gone relatively unnoticed is that Leicester City have only drawn three times during the first half of this season.  They are on course to draw just six games this year, compared with last year’s eleven.  The Foxes have recorded a league-best fifteen wins so far this season (they had won eleven times at this point last year), which is indicative of a more positive mentality that this side is more than capable of taking all three points, be it home or away: Leicester also have the second-best away record in the Championship so far this season, having already won six times (the Foxes only won six league games on the road throughout the entire 2012/13 season).

A huge testament to Nigel Pearson’s focus on a top-two finish in the Championship this season is his team selection for Leicester’s fifth-round League Cup match against Manchester City, which was scheduled between two huge league games against Burnley and Queens Park Rangers.  Leicester lost 3-1 to the Premier League giants, but picked up four points from those two league games, which Pearson correctly deemed to be more important, and was able to utilise Jamie Vardy in the trip to Loftus Road who would go on and score the winning goal.  Facing a side such as Manchester City at home in a cup competition will always be a big deal for a Championship side, but the team selection for those three fixtures indicated that Nigel Pearson has his sights set on playing Premier League sides every week in 2014/15.

As it was in October, it is still too early to be thinking about putting the champagne on ice.  However, Leicester must now be considered serious contenders, given their impressive league position and ability to grind out important results against other promotion hopefuls, be it a narrow 1-0 win or a bizarre 5-3 thriller.   The next stage of the season could prove to be much more of a challenge if visiting sides consider more defensive tactics against the Foxes, in order to contrive an important away point (only three out of twelve teams that have made to the journey to the King Power Stadium this year have left with one point or more).

History is on Leicester’s side, in that each team that has topped the Championship on Boxing Day since the 2007/8 has gone on to achieve automatic promotion.  But this league is unpredictable, and a very tough one to escape from.  The Foxes need to continue to work hard in order to stay at the top of the table, and there is a lot of football to be played between now and the start of May – but things couldn’t look much better than they do right now.

Leicester City 5 Bolton Wanderers 3 – 29 December 2013

Leicester City will begin 2014 with a four-point cushion at the top of the Championship following an enthralling 5-3 win over Bolton Wanderers at the King Power Stadium.

Danny Drinkwater gave Leicester an early lead, but Bolton fought back and scored twice in five minutes through André Moritz and former Foxes striker Jermaine Beckford.

Anthony Knockaert drew the Foxes level with a back-post header, but Moritz scored just seconds later to restore Bolton’s lead.

Former Leicester City captain Matt Mills scored an unfortunate own-goal which brought an end to an encapsulating opening 45 minutes, and when David Nugent missed a second-half penalty, it seemed that Nigel Pearson’s men would have to settle for a draw.

But Lloyd Dyer edged the home side ahead with a stunning solo effort with fifteen minutes remaining, before substitute Gary Taylor-Fletcher scored his first goal since joining the Foxes to give the hosts breathing room before the final whistle.

It was a great display of character by Nigel Pearson’s men, who have now won three consecutive games, and, with Burnley and QPR both failing to win today, the Foxes extended their lead at the top of the Championship table to four points.

Dougie Freedman, whose starting XI included former Foxes Jermaine Beckford, Matt Mills and Jay Spearing, has seen his Bolton team suffer a disappointing start to the 2013/14 Championship season – and it didn’t get any better when Danny Drinkwater put Leicester ahead after just five minutes with a fine strike into the bottom left-hand corner from eighteen yards.

It was a dream start for Leicester City, who had struggled to convert goal-scoring opportunities in recent weeks, but Nigel Pearson will have been pleased to see his side take the lead with their first legitimate effort on goal.

Ritchie De Laet and Matty James then tested the Trotters with consecutive attacking runs into the Bolton penalty area as Leicester pressed for a second goal, but it was the visitors who found the back of the net when André Moritz latched onto Lee Chung-Yong’s pass into the penalty area and found the bottom corner of the net with a low shot from twelve yards.

The equaliser came against the run of play, but was the result of some slow defending on the part of the Foxes and demonstrated Bolton’s ability to capitalise.

Things would get worse for the Foxes when Jermaine Beckford was given far too much space on the edge of the eighteen-yard box, and the former Leicester City frontman turned past Wes Morgan and drilled a low effort past Kasper Schmeichel.

It was a bizarre turnaround, but one for which Dougie Freedman must be given credit for the attacking style of play shown by his players.

Both sides looked as though they could score on any given attack, as Mohamed Kamara tested Kasper Schmeichel with a powerful long range strike which was punched away by the Danish international.

The Foxes grabbed an equaliser eight minutes before half-time when Lloyd Dyer picked out Anthony Knockaert at the back post with a deep cross, and the Frenchman headed past Andy Lonergan for his fifth goal of the season.

But, typically of the first-half of this game, Bolton regained the lead just moments after the restart when the Leicester defence were slow to close down the Trotters in attack, and André Moritz fired past Schmeichel for his second  - and Bolton’s third – goal of the game.

Just as it seemed that the first-half could not contain any more drama, the Foxes were level once again when Paul Konchesky’s shot from distance took an unfortunate deflection off Matt Mills  and past Andy Lonergan, making the score 3-3 before half-time and capping off a breathless six minutes of football.

The second-half had a lot to live up to, but became equally exciting when the match sprung into life again on the hour mark when Jamie Vardy and Zat Knight had a coming together, during which the Bolton defender appeared to grab Vardy by the throat and push him away.

Both players were cautioned by referee Mike Russell, although replays would suggest that Knight was lucky to remain on the pitch.

Leicester came close to taking the lead shortly afterwards when Anthony Knockaert’s curling free-kick struck the crossbar, and with the Bolton goal wide open, Liam Moore’s stretching effort trickled wide of the post.

At the other end, Kasper Schmeichel made a crucial fingertip save to deny Mark Davies from long range as Bolton continued to search for a winner.

With a little over fifteen minutes to go, Jamie Vardy was bundled down inside the penalty area by Andy Lonergan, giving Mike Russell no option but to point to the spot.

But when David Nugent saw his ensuing penalty-kick parried away by Lonergan, it seemed as though Leicester might be forced to settle for a point.

However, the Foxes broke down the left-hand side through Lloyd Dyer following another Bolton attack, and the winger burst past Alex Baptiste before firing superbly into the bottom corner of the net to complete the Leicester turnaround.

It was a moment of brilliance from the winger, who has now scored eight times during this Championship campaign, and one that demonstrated his ability to individually turn a game on its head.

To their credit, Bolton continued to push for a winner, but home side put the game out of sight with two minutes remaining when substitute Gary Taylor-Fletcher latched on to Andy King’s flick-on and volleyed past Lonergan for his first goal as a Leicester player.

It was a composed finish from the former Blackpool striker, who has been impressive coming off the bench in recent weeks, and a goal which confirmed that Leicester would take all three points from the match.

Leicester City will end the calendar year top of the pile at the halfway point in this season, having won 15 of 23 league games, including three straight to finish December.

Man of the Match – Lloyd Dyer

December could define Leicester’s season

After suffering two consecutive losses for the first time this season, Leicester City will aim to pick up where they left off at the King Power Stadium with a first-versus-third clash with top-of-the-table Burnley this Saturday.  Just days later, the Foxes will host Premier League giants Manchester City in a League Cup quarter-final tie, before travelling to Loftus Road to take on fellow promotion rivals Queens Park Rangers.

The Foxes face two more top-six sides after Christmas – Reading the visitors on Boxing Day, before East-Midlands-rivals Derby County make the short trip down the M1 in early January.  The games come thick and fast in this league, and it goes to show how impressive Leicester’s start to their 2013/14 Championship campaign has been that the game against Manchester City is arguably the least important this month.

Leicester’s form home and away has been very good – Nigel Pearson’s men are averaging two points a game in the Championship – which suggests that back-to-back defeats at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton last week were more a blip than anything else.  But with five games still to play in December, the Foxes must return to winning ways in order to keep pace with Sean Dyche’s Burnley and promotion-favourites QPR.  The next three weeks will be a real test for Leicester, but with four of the five games remaining this calendar year being played at the King Power Stadium – where the Foxes have won nine out of eleven in all competitions – Nigel Pearson will see this as a fantastic opportunity for his side to pick up points.

Leicester have been in this position before – as recently as last year, and, as Foxes fans will recall having watched their side slipped from top spot in the Championship and outside the play-off places during a torrid run of form, actually needed help on the last day of the season in order to reach the play-offs.  Nigel Pearson will not want to see his side squander an opportunity like that again, and, with a similar squad to last year, his players should have the mental strength to push on at this stage of the season.

This December could really define Leicester’s season – not only will it mark the half-way point of this campaign, but the Foxes will have played some tough opponents who are where they are in the league on merit.  There is some breathing room between third and sixth in the Championship right now, but Leicester should still be looking up and aiming for one of the two automatic promotion spots.  Building on their impressive home form would go some way to achieving this.