There’s no dressing up Leicester City’s recent run of form. One win in seven outings for a team with Premier League ambitions is not good enough. Five points from a possible 21 is relegation form, not promotion form. A once potent attacking unit is now averaging just one goal a game. The midfield battle seems to be one being lost more regularly. And now the Foxes must travel to Cardiff, a place with bad memories for Nigel Pearson, to face the league leaders in a crucial catch-up match tomorrow night with hopes of bouncing back from a devastating home loss at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday.
The fans’ frustration is evident – and understandable. Just eight weeks ago, Leicester were second in the Championship, having seen off fellow promotion-hopefuls Middlesbrough in a narrow yet enthralling match, and automatic promotion was more than just a possibility. The Foxes have since slipped three places to fifth, and have, at times, looked like a side unlikely to finish amongst the play-off places. Seven of Leicester’s last ten games are against teams in the top half of the league – and four of those games are against teams in the top six. Fans are starting to turn on their manager.
A little context is important here. Many Leicester fans are unhappy with the team’s current league position. Nineteen other teams and their respective managers would be ecstatic with it. If the season ended today, Leicester would face Hull City in the play-offs. While this would be a fall from grace after sitting in the top-two more than once this season, it is a tie from which the Foxes would certainly be capable of yielding a play-off final.
The reaction from some fans as the final whistle blew last Saturday would suggest that Leicester City are in a relegation dogfight with ten games remaining. The reality is that they are one game-in-hand victory away from being back in the thick of the automatic promotion race. Three points tomorrow night would leave the Foxes five points behind Watford. To win tomorrow night will require a huge test of character and nerve, but it is doable. Being away from home may actually be a good thing.
The argument of consistency in the Championship is regularly referred to. Those calling for Nigel Pearson dismissal after Saturday’s defeat, I ask you this; would that improve Leicester’s promotion chances this year? Who would take his place at the helm, knowing that anything other than promotion would be a failure? And who could come in at this stage of the season and know how to get the best out of these players? Nigel Pearson was the last manager to build and develop a Leicester squad that legitimately looked like reaching the Premier League. He isn’t looking for a quick fix through erratic signings in transfer and loan windows; he is looking to build a strong team that learns from its mistakes and improves through its setbacks.
Leicester may not be the most feared team in the league right now – and rightly so. No team has a divine right to win promotion, regardless of history or wealth. There are ten games remaining in this Championship campaign, during which time there will be more twists and turns. The finale against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground could have so much more than bragging rights on the line. Wouldn’t you have taken that at the beginning of the season?