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December 24, 2012 / ultrafox1963

Leicester City Half-term Report: Must Do Better

Leicester City marked the half-way point of their 2012-13 Championship season in disappointing style with a 1-0 home defeat against league leaders Cardiff.

This result left City in 5th place, a full ten points behind top spot. With the next game away to 2nd-placed Hull, hopes of a swift recovery from Saturday’s setback are somewhat subdued, particularly in view of the Foxes’ dismal away form to date. 

The total of 37 points amassed during the first half of the season is the same as at the equivalent stage during 2009-10, the last occasion on which City reached the playoffs. However, the side’s momentum has slowed dramatically in recent weeks and urgent action is needed to fulfill the team’s promotion ambitions.

Manager Nigel Pearson reshaped the squad dramatically in response to last season’s lacklustre 9th place finish, selling Lee Peltier, Matt Mills and Sol Bamba, sending Jermaine Beckford and Neil Danns on loan, and sidelining senior players Richie Wellens and Paul Gallagher altogether.

With an eye on the wage bill – one of the biggest in the league – as well as on forthcoming “financial fair play” regulations, Pearson brought in a number of younger replacements, including Ritchie De Laet, Zak Whitbread, Matty James, Anthony Knockaert, Jamie Vardy and Marko Futacs.

The first impressions of the new-look side were favourable, as the Foxes began the season with a 4-0 League Cup win at 4th-tier Torquay, before seeing off Peterborough 2-0 in the opening league fixture.

However. four defeats followed in the next five games, including a particularly dispiriting 4-2 home defeat against another 4th-tier side, Burton Albion. Speculation grew that City’s Thai owners would be induced into making their third change of manager in as many seasons, with rumours of Harry Redknapp being enticed to the King Power Stadium.

Such uncertainty was swiftly dispelled, though, with a run of six wins in seven matches during which City rocketed from 20th place to 1st in the league table. With 25 points secured from the first 12 games, expectations of a title challenge were high.

But a 2-1 home defeat in a combative and occasionally controversial clash with Crystal Palace on October 27 left scars which have yet to fully heal. Questions resurfaced about the side’s physical and mental strength, and persisted during a run of three subsequent games which yielded only two points.

Although a 6-0 thrashing of Ipswich – City’s biggest win since 1982 – provided some respite from the critics, setbacks at Leeds and Millwall, together with the latest reverse against a more experienced and streetwise Cardiff side, indicate that the quest to regain consistency remains elusive.

The Foxes defence remains top of the divisional rankings, despite the absence through injury of Sean St Ledger, a key figure during the winning run. The form and fitness of skipper Wes Morgan and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel – formidable figures during the course of the season – will continue to be crucial during the months ahead.

Other areas of the side appear more problematic, though, with strikers David Nugent, Martyn Waghorn and Vardy only managing three league goals between them away from Filbert Way. This lack of firepower helps to explain why City’s record on the road is among the worst in the division, with just 11 points collected so far, one fewer than at the same stage of the 2007-08 relegation season.

But the biggest current concern of all among the Foxes fanbase focuses on the midfield. Although Danny Drinkwater and Andy King are both technically accomplished players, serious doubts remain on whether they can produce the right blend for a successful promotion challenge.

While the manager has won plaudits for his evident faith in young players, the time has now come for points to assume priority. An experienced midfield grafter is now widely considered as essential to meet and overcome the challenges City will face during the next few months.

The decisions Pearson takes during the January transfer window will form a defining phase not only for the outcome of City’s season, but for his entire managerial career.

This is his third attempt to build a promotion side at Leicester. As he is only too aware, he is unlikely to be granted a fourth.

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