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Monday, 5 March 2012

Robins out to catch Foxes cold

Bearing in mind the single bright spot of Keith Millen's reign was a shock win at The King Power (the ground formerly known as the Walkers Stadium), there is perhaps more hope than most fans might imagine heading into the first of City's home match double-header.  After all, of the eight wins this season, there are already two doubles on the record - Southampton and Millwall - with the victory against Doncaster matched up with an away point.  Leicester, Barnsley and Burnley have yet to cross our paths a second time.

Indeed, one way to look at City's season is they haven't yet lost to a team they've taken maximum points from - OK, OK, clutching at straws maybe, but nevertheless, losing runs don't go on for ever and maybe, just maybe, Leicester are there for the picking.

David Bevan, editor of the always brilliant The Seventy Two, is also a Leicester fan and kindly offered me this detailed insight into Leicester's form and the trends that lead him to think City might just surprise their visitors tomorrow evening.

"Leicester City are in fantastic form, winning three in a row and losing only three in fifteen. What could possibly go wrong? After all, we’re playing Bristol City - one measly point from your last seven games (as if you needed reminding). Yet somehow the idea of winning three consecutive Championship games seems too good to be true, especially given the fact that our win over Coventry on Saturday made it two league wins in a row for the first time in over a year. There are plenty of positives, but that could equally have been said before damaging defeats against Doncaster, Millwall and Barnsley - to name just three clubs that can only dream of spending over £10m in a summer transfer window.

Nevertheless, let's run through them. We have conceded only twice from open play in four league games, both in the 3-2 defeat at Watford. And since Wes Morgan and Sean St Ledger were first paired up in the FA Cup fifth round victory at Norwich, we've only let in one goal - Wes Hoolahan following up after his penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel. At the other end of the pitch, David Nugent has four goals in four games and all of them were set up by his strike partner Jermaine Beckford. Injuries to players previously considered integral to the team by one manager or another - Darius Vassell, Andy King and Paul Gallagher - have seen Nigel Pearson stumble across a decent formula. It's not as pretty as some of the football during Sven-Goran Eriksson's first season in charge but it suits our personnel at present.

Neil Danns and Richie Wellens have improved in recent weeks, most notably in the first half of the televised 1-0 win at Derby, while Lloyd Dyer has hit form on the left side to pose a real threat with his frightening pace. Although King (16) and Gallagher (11) both managed double figures last season, neither really suit an energetic 4-4-2 formation in this division and the team has looked a more cohesive unit without them. They also often flattered to deceive away from home, whereas Danns in particular has the strength and stamina to impose himself on home teams.

Nugent and Beckford, a strikeforce which should work, has recently struck gold in a slightly surprising way. Many thought that Nugent would work the channels and Beckford would score the goals, but it is actually Nugent who poses the greater danger in front of goal. He now has 14 for the season and Beckford has earned an unlikely reputation as provider rather than poacher, his assist for the winner at Carrow Road (including a superb off-the-ball run which made space for Nugent's run) demonstrating this perfectly.

Pearson traditionally favours a settled starting eleven, but a fixture pile-up will test his resolve. Leicester have at least 14 games to play before the end of April and plenty of key players (primarily Lee Peltier, Wellens and Nugent) who have played an awful lot of football up to now.

The full-back area is arguably a weakness: Paul Konchesky will be suspended for the fixture at Ashton Gate after his red card against Coventry so Tom Kennedy will be filling in. Although Kennedy has fared pretty well when dropping in at left-back already this season, he isn't at Konchesky's standard and Bristol City might well attempt to exploit this. On the other side of the back four, Peltier's form has dipped slightly in recent months after a strong start to the season. If, as expected, Albert Adomah misses the game through injury then Pearson may well breathe a sigh of relief as various teams have targeted the space in behind our marauding full-backs, most notably Barnsley in their 2-1 away win in mid-January.

Leicester are also prone to lapses in concentration and discipline, with three penalties conceded in our last five games and an alarming eight sending-offs racked up since Vassell set the tone by being dismissed, also against Coventry, on the opening day of the season. Perhaps the worst error at the back to date was made by St Ledger against Bristol City, dwelling on the ball and allowing Nicky Maynard to run on and score the second of two goals as the visitors won 2-1 back in August. Thankfully for us, he looks a very different player now and has risen from fourth in the centre-back pecking order to first.

The unpredictable nature of the Championship acts as an achilles heel for Leicester - given the colossal debts exposed by last week's annual accounts as a result of heavy expenditure on both the infrastructure and playing staff, we can no longer afford the kind of slip-ups that have become all too regular. It is now a question of whether our players can keep their heads as the pressure builds towards the end of the season. That 3-2 defeat at Vicarage Road is what Derek McInnes might be advised to concentrate on in preparing his team for this game. Because if you can hang on in there no matter how dangerous Nugent and Beckford look, this Leicester side can be picked off on the counter attack with numbers committed forward and certainly look vulnerable at set pieces."

Plenty of reason to hope there, isn't there?  Aside from the extensively-assembled squad - one that can afford to let Matt Mills leave - and the good run of form, there's not a lot to worry about!

Time will tell, but if ever the players, the manager, the fans - indeed the whole club - needed a fillip it's now, before the entire season disappears without a whimper. 

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robin,

    Congratulations on your blog - there's some great stuff here! We would love it if you would post your articles to www.fanalistas.co.uk. Your articles would be added to your fanalistas profile giving your work exposure to our growing online community.

    I have no doubt that your coverage on Bristol City would get a lot of reads with us. Please email me at james@fanalistas.com so I can tell you more about our site and get an account set up for you.

    Thanks & keep up the good work!
    James

    Like us on facebook to enter our draw for an Ipad www.facebook.com/fanalistas
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