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.