First Published May 1, 2011. Leicester City were officially eliminated from the Championship playoff race this weekend after an eventful year of highs and lows.
First Published May 1, 2011.
Leicester City were officially eliminated from the Championship playoff race this weekend after an eventful year of highs and lows. This is a look back at some of those moments, as well as a look towards the future, next season and what Foxes fans might expect.
To finish outside of the playoffs will undoubtedly be considered a disappointment by some supporters. But a closer look at what actually happened this year explains why this season should not be seen as such.
The previous two seasons were certainly successful for Leicester City. Following the heartbreak of relegation to League One in 2009 – for the first time in club history – under the guise of Nigel Pearson, Leicester bounced back with real gusto as they were promoted as champions of that division. In their first season back in the Championship, Pearson led Leicester to the brink of promotion again with a similar squad, falling just short of the playoff final after losing out on penalties to Cardiff City. Both seasons (albeit having different outcomes) were very successful, and brought Leicester back to winning ways following a number of disappointing seasons and lower mid-table finishes in the Championship.
The summer of 2010 saw Nigel Pearson surprisingly part ways with Leicester City, and be replaced with Paulo Sousa. The former Portuguese international suffered a dreadful start to the season, picking up just five points in nine games, while the Foxes endured some awful defeats including a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Portsmouth at Fratton Park – a side they had beaten 2-1 just two days before at the same ground. This was in spite of bringing fan favourite Martyn Waghorn back to the club after a successful season long loan in 2009/2010, as well as Benfica defender Miguel Vitor, Moreno and Michael Lamey. Leicester conceded four goals in a loss against Norwich, a match that also saw Matty Fryatt pick up a red card. By this point, Leicester were rock bottom of the Championship. They were leaking goals regularly, and the defence, which had been essentially the same personnel under Nigel Pearson, looked tired, sluggish, and uncomfortable.
Amidst the turmoil off the pitch, Leicester were taken over by a Thai-based consortium called Asian Football Investments – fronted by duty free retailers King Power owned by Vichai Raksriaksorn. Milan Mandaric remained club chairman at this time, but would too part ways in November 2010 to take over League One outfit Sheffield Wednesday.
Sousa was dismissed soon after the Norwich defeat and a poor run of form and was replaced temporarily by former player and first-team development coach Chris Powell. However, Leicester were soon linked with former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who signed a two-year contract with the club after the Foxes picked up just their second league win of the season against Scunthorpe United in October.
Eriksson brought in a number of loan signings to Leicester City. Gregg Cunningham, Kyle Naughton, and Curtis Davies all joined the Foxes, while Eriksson also signed free agent and former England international Darius Vassell on a permanent deal. Roman Bednar and Chris Kirkland also were brought in on loan deals, although enjoyed less successful spells than some of their teammates. This provided varying levels of success – with Naughton, Cunningham and Vassell all fitting Eriksson`s preferred style of fast-paced, high tempo and fluid football. These loan signings were, for the most part, an improvement to the squad and became key players, as Eriksson had very limited opportunity to delve into the transfer market and sign players.
Eriksson`s first game in charge of Leicester resulted in a 1-1 home draw against Hull City – who were now under the leadership of former Foxes manager Nigel Pearson. However, it was not long before better results were produced, including wins against Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Derby, and a thumping 5-1 victory over Doncaster Rovers. But consistency did continue to be a problem for Leicester. In the run up to the New Year, Leicester suffered losses to Millwall, Watford and Ipswich; but were picking up points and improved to seventeenth in the league at the end of 2010.
2011 saw more improvement at the Walkers Stadium. Leicester enjoyed a fantastic run of league form that saw them go undefeated in eight games, winning five in a row. Eriksson delved in the loan market again, drafting in Everton striker and Nigerian international Yakubu and Manchester City youngster Ben Mee. Ivorian centre back Sol Bamba was also signed on a permanent deal from SPL club Hibernian – who scored his first goal for Leicester City in a memorable 2-2 draw against Premier League big spenders Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup. By mid-February, Leicester were seventh in the league and one point of the playoff places. Sven-Goran Eriksson was on the brink of the most remarkable turnaround in recent club history.
But eventually, cracks began to emerge. Leicester struggled in a number of tough games against fellow promotion hopefuls Cardiff, QPR and Norwich City. Despite further loan signings of Chelsea defenders Patrick Van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma, as well as former Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo, defensive frailties were uncovered and Leicester started conceding goals again. A difficult run of games in quick succession culminated with a 3-2 loss on Good Friday to local rivals Nottingham Forest – a defeat that essentially vanquished their playoff dreams. Leicester were eventually eliminated from the playoffs at the end of April following an away draw at relegation-threatened Doncaster Rovers.
However, the season has not been a failure. Under Sven-Goran Eriksson, Leicester City have won seventeen games and kept a side believing in promotion despite being more concerned with relegation when he took over. The Foxes have averaged 1.6 points per game under Eriksson, which averages 74 points over the course of the season – a total which would have mathematically resulted in Leicester finishing at least sixth this season. Eriksson has also made contract renewals with key players Andy King, Richie Wellens and Paul Gallagher. These players are the nucleus of the side and will be vital in the progression of Leicester City in the development of a promotion push for next season.
Eriksson was unlucky not to have been able to spend much time in the transfer market this season. Whilst the loan signings of Kyle Naughton, Ben Mee, and, to a certain extent, Yakubu and Patrick Van Aanholt have proved to be important this season, these players have to some extent merely painted over the cracks of the real issues of the quality of this squad. This season, Leicester have been able to compete. But to have made the playoffs this year would have been a misrepresentation – given that Leicester have struggled against current promotion contenders such as Norwich, Cardiff, Swansea and Reading. The Premier League would have come too soon for this side.
The only respect in which this season can be considered a disappointment is that the season is essentially over, yet nothing is up for grabs. The last two seasons saw Leicester enjoy promotion chases, but prior to that, even the nail-biting threat of relegation saw poor seasons go down to the wire, both with success and failure. A lack of excitement should not necessarily translate to disappointment. The playoffs just were not to be this year.
Sven-Goran Eriksson did turn this season around. But expect bigger and better things next season. The pressure will be greater next season – and this upcoming summer in particular will be definitive.
Vital Leicester on: