Difficult run-in will determine Leicester’s season

Following Leicester City’s 3-2 win over fellow promotion-hopefuls Bolton on Tuesday night, Foxes fans have taken a much more positive outlook on their team’s playoff chances.  And rightfully so – not only was it a first win in ten for Nigel Pearson’s men, but the performance demonstrated true character to overcome an early deficit and to take three points against 2013’s form team in the Championship.  The result meant that Leicester leapfrogged Bolton and Nottingham Forest (following their 1-0 loss at Middlesbrough) into the top six and halted a seemingly relentless end-of-season collapse.  It felt like a playoff win – albeit a tense one.

Unfortunately, the season doesn’t end after 43 games.  Nigel Pearson will know that the job is far from complete. But the good news for Leicester is that the momentum could now well and truly be with them.  Even if had they drawn with Bolton, their fate would still have been in their own hands, but it would most likely have been determined at the City Ground in two weeks’ time.  This could still be the case.  However, the Foxes are in a much stronger position following Tuesday’s win – both in terms of where they sit in the table, and mentally.

Leicester’s run-in sees them travel to Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, with a Friday night home game against Watford sandwiched between those fixtures.  On paper, it is an unfavourable final three matches.  But all of Leicester’s remaining opponents are without a win in their last three outings, while the Foxes haven’t lost since April 1.  Performances have stepped up a gear since the loss at Barnsley (their biggest of the season), and results are starting to indicate a more accurate reflection of this.

Realistically, there are five teams in contention for the final three playoff places.  This Championship campaign has been difficult to predict – so much so that the three teams placed between fourth and sixth going into this weekend’s fixtures very probably won’t all be in the same position on Saturday at 5pm.  In another season, Leicester could be dead and buried after a nine-game winless streak but still find themselves very much in the mix with three games to go.

One thing to consider is Leicester’s superior goal difference over the teams around them.  At this stage of the season, it could count as an extra point.  With that in mind, it is likely that the Foxes will need to pick up another six points to secure a playoff spot this year.  Victory over Crystal Palace and Watford would mean that Bolton and Nottingham Forest would need to win their final three games to finish ahead of Leicester.  This weekend, the Trotters host Middlesbrough and Barnsley respectively before traveling to recently-promoted Cardiff and Millwall next weekend.  No game is easy at this stage of the season, and the pressure will be on those teams ‘just outside’.

Nigel Pearson must already be in the mind-set that every game from here is a playoff game.  They could be playoff previews, as Watford and Crystal Palace already occupy a top-six place.  If Leicester can pull off a win against these sides, it will give them an edge in the playoffs.  Victory over Bolton might just have jumpstarted things at exactly the right time.