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Leicester City Lose Their Nerve

Nigel Pearson is unlikely to see the funny side of his side’s abject, April Fools’ Day display at relegation threatened Barnsley. Leicester City slumped to a 2-0 defeat in South Yorkshire on Monday afternoon, in the process losing further ground in the race for a spot in the play offs.

The Npower Championship is undoubtedly unique with regards to its highly remorseless character. The division is seldom unforgiving in its manner; opposing players, managers, fans and, in certain cases, even pitches show little respect to high wage bills and burgeoning reputations. In recent weeks it is The Foxes who have fallen foul of The Championship’s aforementioned mannerisms. A run of just 1 win in their last 11 league matches have seen City slip from 2nd to 7th place.

In the final hours of January, Leicester defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 at The King Power Stadium, tightening their grip on the 2nd automatic promotion place. For the second time this season the Foxes had managed an impressive run of five straight league victories, moving 3 points ahead of Pearson’s former side Hull City. Leicester also held a significant advantage over The Tigers in terms of goal difference, thanks largely to 6-0 and 6-1 home victories against Ipswich Town and Huddersfield Town respectively.

This impressive run of form coincided with the much anticipated arrival of Chris Wood from Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion at the outset of the January transfer window. The fee, believed to be in the region of £1million, lay in keeping with the generous outlay the Thai based hierarchy has invested in playing staff over recent seasons. The highly rated 21-year-old proved to be an instant hit, scoring 6 goals in his first 3 appearances, including a hat trick in an emphatic win at Bristol City.

However, a run of form that can best be described as dismal has seen the East Midlands outfit fall dramatically from the lofty heights of 2nd place. Beginning with a 2-1 defeat at lowly Peterborough, Pearson’s outfit have managed to collect maximum points only once in 11 league encounters, a 3-0 victory over a much maligned Blackburn Rovers side. With a meagre total of just 6 points in the mentioned period of games, Leicester now find themselves 11 points adrift of second place Hull, having played a game more.

The goals have dried up for the previously prolific Wood and regular strike partner David Nugent, as the Foxes have managed to score more than one goal just once in the 11 match run. Perhaps most worryingly, out of the 7 games Leicester have lost since the beginning of February, 6 of the opponents currently find themselves in the bottom half of the division, with none in the top 10. Within a set of fixtures in which Pearson will have expected his expensively assembled squad to pick up a multitude of precious points, fans have witnessed a near complete collapse of a promotion push.

So with 6 matches to play, any chance of automatic promotion has been all but mathematically banished. The challenge has become to rediscover some of the creativity, zest and energy that served The Foxes so well until recent months, in the hope that a strong end to the season will result in a play off birth. Even whilst attempting to put a positive spin on the subject, Leicester’s run in somewhat unenviable. Remaining trips to Brighton, Crystal Palace and a final day visit to local rivals Nottingham Forest could prove to be a chastening experience for a side that has won only 5 times on the road this term.

However, with genuine quality comes reason for genuine hope. Leicester have managed to assemble a squad of both unprecedented depth and talent. Pearson has inherited/built a squad that boasts both the necessary strong backbone and required levels of creativity to develop a renewed promotion bid. Reliable and regular stalwarts such as Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgans and Danny Drinkwater are accompanied by a myriad of technically and physically gifted attacking players, including Wood, Nugent, Lloyd Dyer and a personal favourite in Anthony Knockaert.

If the playing and coaching staff are able galvanise both themselves and the loyal Leicester support with improved performances and results, then the former Premier League outfit could well still find themselves plying their trade at Old Trafford, The Etihad and Anfield next season, as opposed to potential trips to Doncaster or Bournemouth (both vying for promotion out of Npower League One).

As adhered to throughout, Leicester City have invested heavily in their quest to arrive back in the promised land of The Barclays Premier League. Nigel Pearson is undoubtedly working under elevated levels of pressure and scrutiny in his second spell with the club. Pearson has exceptional fighting characteristics, harnessed both effectively during his player and managerial career; these will have to be utilised if The Foxes are to regain impetus and give themselves a chance in the lottery that is the play offs.

 Michael Dobson